Travels in Africa

Fred and Donanne Hunter

Author: Fred (page 2 of 22)

A WOOING

At 7:25 Trevor went down to the dining room to wait for the dinner partner he had known only a matter of hours. He was an architect supervising a construction job in Kinshasa who had come to South Africa for a change of scene. That afternoon he had flown to Cape Town from Johannesburg. Serendipity had placed him in a seat next to a friendly beauty. After they’d gotten to chatting, she asked him to test her on her lines. It turned out she was an actress, Tina Windsor, coming to the Cape to shoot an industrial film about South African wines. She really wanted to chat, not study lines, and they talked virtually the entire flight. She offered him a ride into town in her rented convertible and took him to the Mount Nelson Hotel where she was staying as part of her contract. He engaged a room there as well and they planned to meet for dinner.
They had agreed for 7:30, but Trevor expected she would exercise the actress’s prerogative to be late. As he waited for her, he wondered if she were an actress he should recognize. Doubtful. He assumed that, if she possessed notable credits, she would have dropped them into their conversation on the plane. He wondered how old she was; probably a bit younger than him, into her mid-thirties. At five of 8:00 she appeared.
“You look quite amazingly gorgeous,” Trevor told her, partly because it was true and partly because he knew she wanted to hear it. Her dress was basic black and displayed her figure well. It accentuated her vitality, her beauty.
“I hung out all my clothes,” she told him as they followed the maitre d’ to a table. “And took a nap. I had every intention of studying my lines—“ She shrugged.
“Quite naughty of you not to,” he chided. “But lovely women deserve a little indulgence.”
“If I pretend your compliments embarrass me,” Tina said, “you’ll see how really bad an actress I am.” She smiled, pleased that they both understood their parts, and asked, “What shall we have for dinner?”
Once they had ordered – light on both food and wine – Trevor said, “Tell me how you became an actress.” Since what he assumed might happen after their dinner never went pleasurably for him on a full stomach, he would eat sparingly. “Being an actress: isn’t that what every young girl wants to do? It must be quite difficult to succeed.”
“I suppose I was lucky,” she said.
“I’m sure you thought acting would help make the world a better place.”
This idea charmed her. “Heavens, no! I just wanted to show off and meet beautiful people and go to their parties.” She studied him, amused. “Don’t tell me you think you make the world a better place through architecture.”
“Of course, I think that!” he replied. “Architecture doesn’t just clutter the landscape, you know.” He did his best to charm her, hoping that she would not find an evening with an architect too boring.
“Oh, goodness,” she said, dropping her voice an octave. “Idealists make the world a very difficult place to live.”
He laughed, pleased that she was charming him. “You said you were lucky,” he reminded her.
“I was pretty, too. But, of course, everyone seriously trying to do it was pretty. And I was so very young! On top of that a virgin! Which is quite unusual for that game.”
“I can’t imagine you stayed a virgin for long.”
“You think I have no self-control?”
“I think men must have been baying after you like hounds on a hunt. And some of them must have been quite attractive.”
“In fact, it didn’t take me long to offer one of them the gift of me. I was eighteen. I’m sure I thought it a much greater gift than he did.”
Trevor smiled to show her how delectable he found her.
She told him about her life, a topic that obviously enthralled her. She had been born and raised in Kenya, the first child of an ex-British Army officer cashiered for eloping with his commanding officer’s under-age daughter. Disgraced, they had fled to Kenya where he had become a very successful grocer. “Isn’t that a howl?” Tina laughed. “My father the grocer! – with his passion for polo.“ She had grown up going to the colony’s best school for girls, hanging around the Muthaiga Club. “I presented a bouquet to an international film star there, German, Wolf Something. I danced with him. He asked me to come to his room and I almost did. But I was only fifteen.” Her lips formed a pout.
Trevor laughed. Watching her, rather enchanted, he felt that she was disrobing for him. A curious thought. For, if anything, she was clothing herself in exotic tales. If she took him to her room after dinner – which is where he expected them to go – then she truly would disrobe for him, shed her clothes with an actress’s skill, and he would see if her figure was as lovely as he assumed it was.
“There are some real advantages to being raised in a colony,” she told Trevor. “You are brought up with one set of rules, one set of expectations about behavior. And yet you’re living among people with an entirely different set of rules. Africans – at least the ones in Kenya – are so joyful and relaxed. The men generally have several wives and the wives take lovers and it all works out rather well.”
“Africans here don’t seem so—“
“That’s because of the Afrikaners! Impossible people!” Tina said. “So puritanical! Convinced of the rightness of all they do. At dinner parties here one cannot talk about sex. Now I ask you: If you can’t mention sex at a dinner party, what in the world do you talk about?”
She chatted on about herself. Colonial life was rather a bore. Fortunately, her parents sent her off to England to get educated. They had not expected that education to happen in the theatre. But she soon landed a part in a play and began having affairs with actors. It was a wonderfully exciting life, but after five or six years she could see that she would never be Meryl Streep.
That meant she needed to find someone to marry. She met Lee at a party. He was a South African, reading law at Oxford. He knew of her father by reputation for by then her father had been knighted by the queen for facilitating communication between whites and blacks in Kenya. They began to see each other. He was perhaps a bit stuffy, but very handsome and the family was well-connected. So they married.
“Here I am,” she said, “droning on about myself, and I’ve asked nothing about you. What makes you come here?”
“To meet women like you.” She smiled, charmed, and dropped her eyes. He said, “A man can get lonely in Kinshasa,”
“Has it been awful?” She looked at him seriously. “A failed state. Is it where we’re headed in another decade?” He reached across the table and took her hand. She stared at him. “It has been awful, hasn’t it?”
He shrugged. He did not want politics to derail the disrobing.
“Our politicians will undoubtedly misread the tea leaves,” Tina said. “Are we doomed?”
“Tell me more about your life,” he invited. “You married– Lee, was it?”
“Yes, Lee. Who was willing to take me on my terms, a little soiled.” She giggled. “A little lacking in self-control.”
“Really?” Trevor laughed. “What in the world does that mean?”
“I should simply let you be intrigued.” She smiled, playing the scene. “But I haven’t got the self-control to bring that off.”
“Tell me.” He almost challenged her: “Remove another veil.” But he had too much self-control for that.
“I was married in Nairobi,” she said. “The day before the wedding, an old family friend, a fellow I’d known for donkey’s years, confessed that he’d always dreamed of sleeping with me.”
“An unusual confession to make to a bride.”
“I was utterly charmed. I thought to myself: I can enslave this man. I can have this bloke thinking of me for the rest of his life. So I took him upstairs and made his dream come true.”
Trevor laughed as another veil flew off. “You were quite a generous bride.”
“I did confess to Lee that I’d done it. I swore it would never happen again. But, of course, it did. But not for a long time.”
She and Lee had settled into Johannesburg life and had four children. She lived a mostly conventional life, running the house, entertaining for her husband, faithfully attending school sporting events. She did occasional theatre, slept with two or three men outside her marriage, but did not confess her sins. Lee had an affair or two himself.
As she talked on about her life, Trevor felt his attention drifting. Undoubtedly reciting her story was a way of assessing herself before a mirror in her mind. He wondered: Did he really want to sleep with her? She was a little self-involved, but probably a very good fuck. He wasn’t bad himself. He would certainly enjoy holding her body. They could spend a pleasant night in each other’s arms.
“Of course, it drifted into an affair,” she said. She was talking about an actor, out from Britain, with whom she had co-directed a play. The passion she felt for the man was overpowering, she said. Robert made her realize she had never before known love. So she told Lee that she was in love with another man. She did not want to leave him; she loved him very much, she said. They had been married a dozen years and there were the children to consider. But she could not give up Robert. She suggested to Lee that he share her with Robert. The actor was a man of the world; he thought the arrangement workable and acknowledged Lee’s husbandly rights. But Lee, conventional Lee! He insisted that she choose. She chose Robert.
“You married Robert, I take it,” Trevor said. “I’m very aware of your ring.”
“Yes,” she replied. “I married him. He wangled me this role in the industrial film. The better to have me out of town.”
“Will you have coffee?” Trevor asked. They had finished their light entrees. “There seems to be a parlor where they serve it.”
“Fine,” Tina said, not caring what came next, feeling only that Trevor deserved an explanation. “My first child, my daughter, is now nineteen,” she said. She must be into her forties, he thought. He had not suspected she was so old. “If you knew Robert, which I’m glad you don’t!” – she smiled wickedly – “you’d see how panicky he is at the thought of turning fifty. So he’s in hot pursuit of Heather’s school chums. Which is terribly embarrassing to her and, as you can imagine, rather a bore for me.”
Trevor nodded and signaled for the bill.
They had coffee seated side by side on a couch in a parlor off the dining room.
“Do you ever act with Africans?” Trevor asked, refocusing on her.
A strange smile played for a moment across her face. Then she said, “I admit if I were our government, I’m not sure what I’d do. The trouble is we live among our Africans, but we really don’t know them.”
“You half-smiled just then,” Trevor challenged her. “Why? Have you acted with Africans?”
“I did a play—“ she said. “Oh, three or four years ago. There was a part for an African and we found a young lab assistant at the university. He was willing to help us out.”
“So things aren’t as separate here as we sometimes think.”
“I made it my business to get to know the chap.” Tina watched Trevor carefully. He nodded, approving. “After rehearsals we sometimes had tea together in my dressing room. Had wonderful conversations.” She scrutinized Trevor; he sensed what she was about to confess. “The truth is: We slept together.”
Trevor was amused. The lusty wench. Admitting that she had slept across the color bar was the ultimate way of undressing for him, of promising him pleasures to come. He nodded, smiling slightly, to acknowledge her meaning.
Tina laughed. “The poor chap! He was terrified.” Trevor smiled. Tina shrugged. “What we did frightened him. He ran off. We had to find another African actor.” She giggled. “I stayed away from that one lest I ruin the play.”
“I can’t imagine running away from you,” Trevor said. But, in fact, he was feeling a little impatient with her. She had every right, he thought to disrobe for any white man or Arab billionaire as she was now disrobing for him. They were her equals. But this adventure for her: tasting black. To invite an unequal, an African who was trying to help her to enter that menacing white pussy mouth that would undo him. That was not so pretty.
He withdrew his hand, picked up the bills, gave Tina hers and signed his. He asked, “Would you fancy a walk in the hotel garden?”
Tina did not reply. She studied him. “You think me a tramp, don’t you?” Her tone was accusatory. She was testing him now, reclothing herself, threatening to withdraw the invitation that had not yet been offered, but was clearly available to him if he played his cards right. He gazed at her quizzically.
“Don’t you?” she insisted. “A disreputable woman. Or some despicable liberal who supposes that having a fling with an African will make me knowledgeable about ‘native questions.’” She stared at him defiantly. “You see me as some cliché-spouting do-gooder who thinks that sleeping with an African will ameliorate the race problem.”
“You honestly want to know what I think?”
“You think I’m superficial.”
“I think you’re indescribably beautiful. I’m privileged to be with you.” He acted his role, letting his eyes play over her face, her neck, her shoulders and arms and return to her face. “And I think that African was incredibly lucky.”
She smiled. The seduction was back on track.
“Yes, a walk in the garden!” she cried, flirtatious again. “Please excuse me a moment. After all my talking I need to refresh my lipstick.” She rose. He stood to honor her and watched her move across the parlor off the dining room.
Taking a last swallow of coffee, he realized that her magnetism, the aura that had entranced him ever since meeting her, was gone. She had taken it with her to the ladies’ loo. A bit of a tramp, he thought, a little shopworn. Not a do-gooding liberal. Just a rather sad jade, older than he had thought at first, who was wondering what was in his pants. Somehow she had crossed the line.
It was one thing to seduce equals, the game they were playing. Her seducing a young African trying to help her. That was different, an unequal game. White privilege exploiting its advantage. He did not think of himself as crossing any line when he seduced African girls in Kinshasa. A man seducing a girl: that was just life. But she had crossed the line.
He withdrew his wallet, took out enough rands to tip the African waiter, and left them on the table. Standing, he signaled the waiter. “When the lady returns,” he said, “will you please tell her I’ve been called away?”

THE HOUSE ON ROSSLYN LONE TREE ESTATE

When Donanne and I arrived in Nairobi where I would start work as the Africa Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, we loved being in East Africa and living in Nairobi about which we had read so much. We were intrigued to be sharing our lives with people so different from us: Africans, East Asians, British holdovers from the colonial era so recently dismantled. Donanne, daughter of an American Foreign Service Officer who had finished high school in South Africa, was pleased to be overseas again. I was eager to revisit the East African game parks whose denizens had so amazed me when I encountered them, during the annual migration of wildebeest and zebra, at the end of my tour with the United States Information Service in the Congo.
We lodged first at the Norfolk Hotel. It was a real Africa hostelry famous for high-living British colonials riding horses through the dining room in long ago yesteryears. We had a small cottage at the back of the property out beyond the garden where superb starlings jumped around inside an aviary.
There was no heat in our cottage. This was Nairobi, mere miles below the Equator; you weren’t supposed to need heat. There were even open vents at the ceiling for air circulation. But Nairobi lay in mile-high country. It was chilly. We bought East African Standards and Daily Nations so that I could keep abreast of the news. Once finished with the papers, we stuffed them into the air-vents to stay warm.
We had the devil of a time finding a place to live. We talked with estate agents. We rented a car from a place called Odd Jobs on Muindi Mbingu Street. We went house- and apartment-hunting. Alas! without success. Finally we heard of a house, rent-controlled and empty, seven miles outside of Nairobi on Rosslyn Lone Tree Estate. A widow living in British Columbia owned the place and wanted desperately to sell it. But she had been unable to do so for several years. We took a look.
It was “old Nairobi.” That had definite appeal. Constructed of field stone, it offered an adequate living/dining room, a largish master bedroom and two smaller rooms, each with its own wash basin, its pipes presumably attached somewhere in the foundations. The young Kikuyu tending the place seemed awfully nice and probably could be hired as a servant. Hmm.
Then there was the kitchen. It defined the term “basic.” It was dark. The “cooker” was pre-World War II. The basin, apparently on the verge of collapse, stood on two legs anchored to a wall. There was a pothole in the floor.
Should we take the place? We’d had enough of hotels. But no. Seven miles was too far out of Nairobi. Moreover, the place had its own well; the water was potable but bad for one’s teeth. Residents had to cart drinking water from Nairobi. But the deal-breaker was the kitchen. It was simply unbelievable.
I went off to Ghana to cover the elections and the restoration of civilian rule there.
When I returned from Accra two weeks later, Donanne had not been able to find a place for us to live. By then we were frantic to get out of hotels. We took another look at the house at Rosslyn Lone Tree Estate. On the minus side, the kitchen was not to be tolerated. On the plus side, the property was “real Africa.” At seven miles out it would offer tranquility, a refuge from the bustle of Nairobi. Moreover, it was or had been a coffee plantation. Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) had lived on a coffee plantation, probably in a house made of field stone, maybe with a 12-foot-high anthill at the end of the drive just like the one this house featured. Who could forget the first line of Out of Africa, Blixen’s masterpiece? “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot on the Ngong Hills.” We all pay homage to Karen Blixen in differing ways. We paid ours by taking the Rosslyn house.
We took it, continuing to look for a more permanent place. After all, the Rosslyn house could be sold out from under us at almost any time. But it didn’t sell. Finally we settled into the house, expecting to live there indefinitely.
As it turned out, we were not its only occupants. There was a resident upstairs – whom we never saw – living above the ceiling. We could hear it at night. As this neighbor went sliding about its quarters (it did not step; it slid), we would lie awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering if it would emerge. Was it a giant slug? A sloth? A dragon? We never knew.
There were spiders in the house. Not necessarily a bad thing because they kept down insects. But they were very pregnant spiders that kept having babies. Sometimes, returning from dinner or a movie in Nairobi, we would find dozens of tiny baby spiders hanging from the hall ceiling. Donanne would get out the vacuum cleaner, suck the babies into its innards and then seal the machine so that none could escape.
The house had been built in the colonial days. Its water came from a well, not from a city waterworks. Without problems water flowed into basins and then emptied into–- Well, we actually hadn’t inquired into what. One evening I was working on a dispatch in my office, the small bedroom overlooking the expansive yard outside. I heard a strange scratching. Stopped work. Looked about. Was it the sloth? The dragon? Nothing. Hmm. Went back to work. More scratching. More looking. Again returned to work. More scratching, a metallic sound. Then scratching of the sort that might be made on porcelain. I glanced at the basin behind the desk. Something was peddling furiously to escape the basin. A mouse! I jumped clear out of my chair. I yelled with surprise as if I’d been attacked. Donanne came running.
We caught the critter and escorted it from the house. Then we carefully examined the basin. It did not empty into under-house plumbing, but simply into the garden outside. The scratchings I’d heard were those of the mouse making its way up the pipe. We quickly put a stopper into the basin.
The residents along the estate road never paid attention to their American neighbors. (Because we’d like to have known them, Donanne once took a welcoming plate of cookies to a couple who had just moved in. Never heard further from them.) But Thomas, the neighbors’ cat, did wander over, picking his high-stepping way over the tall grass. We like cats, thought it would be fun to have a friend.
Over a period of days we worked at becoming acquainted. We even allowed Thomas inside the house. He so liked it there that he began to mark the territory as his own. We came upon him one day, tail held aloft, one masculine hind leg in the air, anointing our best chair. Wowee! If that was merely marking territory, it very much looked like something else. Yeegads! Was the chair ruined? Would the whole living room smell? Rather too excitedly I rushed at Thomas, shouting and clapping my hands. I chased the poor guy outside. We were too new in our acquisition of wildlife lore to realize an animal would mark its territory. Whatever. Thomas never came back.
Seven miles out proved not all that convenient, more of a problem for Donanne (who was stuck at the house) than for me who used the car to chase stories. When we were in town at night, it seemed like a long drive home along a very dark road. One night driving home we had to slam on the brakes to avoid running into an obstacle in the road. We were not sure what it was. As we moved closer, it became a truck, parked smack in the middle of the two-lane road. Approaching closer, we saw that the hood was up. Still closer we made out the haunches of an African bent over, messing with the innards of the vehicle. We crept past and sent a good thought to him and all drivers on that road.
I will let Donanne describe that famous kitchen:
In retrospect it wasn’t that bad. It included a small fridge, a sink, a cooker, a few shelves, a light bulb dangling from the ceiling – and a pothole in the middle of the cement floor. Filled with crumpled newspapers and covered with a woven mat from the bazaar, the pothole mostly disappeared. The two-legged sink leaned against the wall under a window that opened onto the back of the property. Through it a smiling Laban delivered tetra-pak milk cartons. The cooker was a step up into a shadowy alcove. From its heights its hooded vent emitted strange sounds that made one wonder what might fall into the cook pot. Stirring semolina was not without drama. Something did fall once, black and wiggly, but I don’t know what it was. When it arrived, I left. Best of all, through the open windows of the kitchen and the rest of the house wafted the memorable fragrance of jasmine. We knew that we had no real grounds for complaint. After all, we “had a place [ not a farm] in Africa,” if not “at the foot of the Ngong Hills,” at least on the road to Banana Hill.
After we’d been in the house about five months, we were notified that the widow in British Columbia had succeeded at last in selling the place. We would have to start house-hunting all over again. But wait! Sub-Saharan Africa was an enormous beat to cover. Maybe it made sense for us to wander the territory for a time, visiting the countries I was supposed to cover and sending The Monitor reports about them. I proposed the idea to my editors. With extraordinary generosity they agreed. The housing allowance that I would no longer receive would help defray the costs of Donanne’s traveling with me. So we said goodbye to the house at Rosslyn Lone Tree Estate and set out on eight months of travel.

THE ENGLISH AND THEIR PETS

The English love their pets more than their children.
In a set-to between a child and a dog the English run in to protect the dog.
One can offer evidence to support these assertions. But, in fact, they are exaggerated. The English do not love their pets more than their children. They love them only just as much.
Certainly pets rather than children dominate English dinner party conversation. Sometimes they even dominate the dinner party itself.
The English let their pets come to the table. They consider it amusing when Mirabel claws your ankle making you gag upon your soup. They find it endearing when Wellington lays his snout affectionately in your lap causing you to shoot your peas across the tablecloth.
People who would never countenance such behavior in their children indulge it in their pets. “Is that Mirabel?” the hostess asks with feigned crossness as you blush and right the toppled water glass, rubbing the wounded ankle against the other one.
Or astonished she demands, “Is Wellington under the table?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” you say as you wipe gravy off your tie meanwhile aiming sharp, hopefully unnoticed kicks in his direction.
“All dogs outside!” the hostess chirps. “Come, Wellie!” Eventually the dog obeys, whopping his great German shepherd tail against assembled knees. “Outside you go!” commands his mistress, stirring only to slip the beloved bowwow a morsel from her plate.
If you have not previously greeted the other pets, you do this after dinner. These include the rabbits outside, then the gerbils and the parrot and the budgerigars. All are solemnly introduced and even more solemnly lauded. You find yourself thirsting for after dinner coffee as you never have before.
At last you return to the drawing room. The pets that enlivened your dinner accompany you there. But these are not the only ones present. There are also the pets of the past (“We had the sweetest white mouse once”) and those of a yearned-for future (“Oh, I’d so love to have a mongoose”).
The present pets settle into their established routine. The dogs (there always seem to be more than one) stretch out before the sofa and lie upon your feet. They twitch in their dreams, wake and bark at figments, perfume the room with a fragrance their owners no longer smell.
The cats behave toward you in one of two ways: either they regard you with inscrutable hostility, stepping gracefully away from the hand extended to prove to the hostess that you do not dislike animals. Or they overpower you with fidgety affection, curling and recurling into your lap, shedding and drooling onto your coat, snatching away from you your after dinner chocolate.
The English use their pets for conversational purposes. If, for instance, a lull descends between animal stories, the host or hostess reaches down, scratches beloved Hamlet (who is, of course, a Great Dane), inquires about his health and starts a conversation with him. This attention invariably causes Hamlet to do a rhumba on his back. This inspires oohs and ahhs of delight and new animal tales flow afresh.
Guests are also addressed through pets. For example, hostess lifts the drowsy Bangkok (who is, of course, a Siamese), places her nose against its nose and instructs, “You go tell that big man to be careful of the chair he’s sitting in. It’s an antique that my great-grandfather made with his own hands. You go tell him now!” Hostess kisses kitty while you move quickly to a less cherished chair.
Stories about animals are the conversational mainstay of the English dinner party. Here in East Africa there are more species to discuss than merely dogs, rabbits and rodents, cats and canaries. These often hold considerable interest. One encounters here people who have tamed cheetahs and elephants, who have petted pangolins, played aunty to anteaters and have dik-diks and porcupines, monkeys and baboons living in their gardens, who sleep in the same room (often in the same bed) with hyraxes and tortoises, bush babies, geckos and infant jackals.
One never stays too late at English dinner parties. When the pets have to be put out, the guests are let out, too. In fact, it is an ideal time to leave. When the animals charge off into the darkness, you have time enough to hurry to your car. If you linger, the pets will return. They will maul you with affectionate goodbyes just as they jumped at you and nipped your heels in lovable greeting.
You thank your hosts. You compliment the dinner, commend the ambiance and most ingratiatingly of all you praise the pets. The hostess smiles maternally, her head cocked listening for beloved barkings. “Yes,” she says, ”I’ve always maintained that some of my favorite guests are dogs.”
The English are said to be both the most civilized and eccentric of peoples. It is not always clear from which of these strains this affection for animals derives.
Certainly some of them pay their pets the ultimate compliment. To cite an example. Driving along Nairobi’s main thoroughfare one afternoon I followed a small British car. It was driven by a woman in a tweedy suit with hat to match. The passengers were three dogs: a Dalmatian and a poodle in back, a cocker spaniel in front.
I examined the quartet as I pulled alongside to pass. The Dalmatian sat alert and well-groomed, his eyes upon the road, his mouth open in a doggy smile, the tongue lolling out. The poodle sat more or less the same way, well-groomed, alert and grinning. So did the cocker spaniel.
The driver sat alertly, too. She was well-groomed, her eyes were on the road ahead, and yes, she too had her mouth open in a grin. What a charming scene! I could not help thinking what depth of affection must lie between them that they should all have grown to look alike.

MOREL’S QUEST

Léon-Georges Morel arrived at the Governor-General’s mansion, wearing a white uniform, freshly washed, starched, and pressed. His white shoes glistened. His pith helmet rested on his hip, held there by his right arm. For the occasion he had carefully brushed his main facial feature, a light brown handlebar mustache that stretched across his upper lip.
Although he was a mere district officer in the Cataracts-Sud district of the Belgian Congo, hardly a year in the colony, Governor-General Count Lippens had met him in Boma, the capital, liked him, and invited him to lunch with him and the Countess.
As his hosts greeted him, Morel tried to mask his nervousness. He apologized to the Countess for failing to bring either a bouquet of flowers or a box of candies. “I couldn’t find either one in Boma,” he said. Morel’s apology pleased the Count. It suggested that he had a background from which an effective officer could be molded. Indeed, molding young men of the colonial service into effective officers was one of the Count’s prime goals.
Over soufflé the Count encouraged Morel to talk about his life in the bush, his daily activities, his interaction with Africans, his being called upon to settle disputes. “I’m realizing more and more,” the Count observed, “that if we have the right men in the field, things go well. If we have the wrong men, things go badly. So we must help our officers to become the right sort of men.”
“Tell us more about your domestic life,” suggested the Countess as they ate dessert. “Do you actually have one? Is there a social life?”
“I don’t really have a domestic life,” admitted Morel. “I live in the back of the building that’s my office. Sometimes I play cards with a missionary nearby.”
“Did you leave a girl at home?” asked the Count.
Morel very openly drew into himself.
“Please excuse us,” said the Countess. “Is that a delicate subject?”
Morel sighed, realizing he better make a clean breast of it. “There was a girl. I asked her to marry me. But when I went into the colonial service, she refused me.”
“I’m so sorry,” said the Countess.
“For the first months out here I missed her very much,” Morel admitted. He looked at his hands, annoyed with himself for confessing so much.
Adjourning to the small parlor for coffee, they moved to other subjects. While the Countess filled their demitasses, the Count recalled something he had mentioned when he had earlier met Morel. “I believe I suggested to you at our earlier meeting that you find a young woman to take care of you.”
“Yes, sir, you did.” The young man blushed embarrassedly.
“And have you found one?”
“I’m going to excuse myself for a few moments,” declared the Countess. “I need to thank Cook for our lunch.”
As she rose from her chair, Morel rose, too, very conscious of his manners. Once she was gone, he sat down again. While he was on his feet the Count watched him, both benevolently and amused.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” said the Count. “Our women are very aware that the right companion settles a man. It helps him become a better officer.”
“I wish I knew how to go about it,” Morel confessed.
Neither man spoke for a moment for the Count himself did not really know how a young officer might go about finding a suitable Congolese to live with.
“A few years ago there was a trial across the river in the French Congo,” said Morel. “A young officer came out from France without the savoir faire being French is supposed bestow. When he needed companionship, he required the wives of his soldiers to sleep with him.”
The Count nodded. “I’ve heard of the man,” he acknowledged. “Bad things happened.”
“He went on trial,” said Morel. “His soldiers testified against him. He spent a year in prison.” Morel laughed. “I wouldn’t want to be a colonial officer doing time in a colonial prison.”
“Surely,” observed the Count, “the choice is not celibacy or prison.”
Morel noted quietly, “Unfortunately there are no matchmakers for colonial officers at my station.”
The Count asked, “Would you want a settler’s daughter? We could make some introductions.”
“Please don’t!” Morel laughed. “A settler’s daughter would see where I live and complain around the clock. I might be forced to kill her. Then I’d be put on trial.”
“So we must find you a Congolese– A maiden.” The Count smiled as he said the archaic word. Morel smiled, too. “You’d have to treat her decently, you know,” warned the Count. “I’m told native men beat their women.”
“I wouldn’t do that. I don’t hit women.”
“If you didn’t beat her, she would think she’d landed very well.” After a thoughtful pause the Count noted, “You wouldn’t want a girl who put on airs, being Morel’s woman.”
Morel shook his head.
“Probably from the dominant tribe in your area. Girl from a lesser tribe might have difficulties.”
Morel laughed again. “Should I be making a list?”
“What kind of a girl would you want?”
Morel considered this for a moment. “Pretty. I’d be looking at her a lot. Slim. Not skinny, but not—“ He gestured with his hands.
“What qualities besides how she looks?”
Morel mulled qualities. “Quiet, I guess. Maybe I mean self-possessed. Not flighty. A sense of humor, though I don’t imagine we’d be telling each other jokes. Clean. A good housekeeper.” He shrugged. “Responsive in bed, of course.” The Count nodded. “Though not given to too much of that.”
Morel and the Count regarded one another, Morel trying to think of other necessary qualities. “A good cook although maybe the man who cooks for me would stay on. She should speak some French,” Morel added. “She could teach me Lingala.”
The Count smiled. “Now all we have to do is find her.” He folded his arms across his chest and gazed at the ceiling, trying to think where such a maiden could be found.
The Countess rejoined the men to find them apparently deep in thought. “Am I interrupting?” she asked.
The Count explained, “We were wondering where Morel could find a Congolese companion. He doesn’t want a settler’s daughter.”
As if it were the most obvious strategy, the Countess said, “Go where the girls are. To a convent school.”
This was a new idea to Morel.
“Go to the Mother Superior,” the Countess went on. “Explain your problem. That you need a companion. That the Governor-General himself” – the Count looked surprised at this – “suggested that you try this very school. Emphasize that your companion will benefit not only herself and you, but also the region where you serve, even the colony as a whole.” The Countess’ advice continued. “Remind the Mother Superior that a colonial official with a companion is better than one who is lonely, irritable and short-tempered. I’m sure she’ll find you the right girl.”
“And with that good advice,” said the Count, looking at Morel. “will you walk with me back to the office?”

Léon-Georges Morel stood before the mirror in the guesthouse in which he spent the night. He beheld apprehension in the face that stared back at him. He was about to make his first call at a convent school. It trained sixty girls. He hoped the Mother Superior would be kindly, motherly, sympathetic. He had heard that she frightened the girls. Would she frighten him? No! She would not! He stood erect, threw back his shoulders, and smoothed his mustache. Now in the mirror he saw a fine specimen of a colonial officer. Bravely he set forth.
Arriving at the convent, Morel watched companion candidates move across the courtyard before their classes began. He examined faces and what he could imagine of breasts, thighs and derrieres covered with school uniforms. There were not many girls of suitable age, fourteen or older. But there were enough and some were very fine! They made his mouth water; they caused a stirring in his groin. With satisfaction he brushed his mustache. The Lord be praised! He would not sleep alone this night.
Outside the office of the Mother Superior, he straightened to his full height and noticed that his manliness energized the bashful girl who escorted him to his appointment. But when he entered the office and stood before the woman who would determine his fate, his heart sank. The Mother Superior was a crone. She sat behind her desk, swathed in her habit, her ogre face protruding from a wimple wrinkled from wear. She did not smile or rise in greeting to offer her hand. She sat, immobile. She studied him with narrowed eyes as if some witch’s magic had informed her of the reason for his visit.
“Your convent is so attractive, Mother Superior,” Morel said. “Your girls are fortunate to be here.” The hag said nothing. He introduced himself, explained that he served as the government officer at Cataracts-Sud and observed that her convent was extremely well-regarded in the area. Mother Superior continued to study him; she made no reply. He said, “The Governor-General suggested that I call on you.”
“Did he, indeed?” she replied. Clearly she did not believe he had ever met the Governor-General. “And when did you see the him?”
Morel explained. He had been to Boma on official business.
“And why should he suggest you call on me?”
Standing before this creature, Morel felt in greater danger than when he entered a hostile village. He was unable to mask his nervousness. He hesitated. “He recommended that I find a companion – the right kind of companion, of course, a girl with some education – and thought I might find her here.”
The Mother Superior examined Morel unforgivingly. “You have come to take off one of our best girls to keep you happy in the bush. Is that it?”
Morel felt tongue-tied. He wondered whatever had made him suppose he could succeed in the colonial service.
“Does the Governor-General suppose that our work is to provide courtesans for colonial officers?”
Morel stared at the floor. He closed his eyes, unable to behold this Christian fiend who frightened him more than a dozen demons.
Finally he managed, “I believe he feels that a gentle, docile girl with a sense of humor, rather pretty, would improve my ability to– You know, deal with—uh—challenges of the service.” Morel felt relieved that he’d gotten out “challenges.”
“You’d be less likely,” said the Mother Superior, “to fly off the handle at natives. Is that it? To scream at them and beat them?”
This was not going well. “Reverend Mother, it’s a hard and lonely job. The right girl could—“ Morel ran out of words.
“Will you marry her?”
Morel had not considered marriage. He made no reply.
The Mother Superior studied him. “Hmm,” she murmured at last. “We do have a girl, a complainer, rebellious, difficult to get along with. Rather plain. We are sending her back to her village, but I suppose we could give her to you.”
Morel watched the woman, terrified.
“Do you want to take her now?”
Morel shook his head. He could not speak.
“As for gentle, docile girls with a sense of humor, we hope to keep them for ourselves. To help us with our work.” The ogre watched him. “You understand, of course.”
Morel stood, withering under the creature’s scrutiny. He did not know how to extricate himself from the situation.
The ogre rose from her chair and came around her desk. “I’ll call the difficult girl. Perhaps you’d like a look.”
“No, thank you,” said Morel. He fled from the room as if his feet were on fire, stepped outside the building, exhausted and relieved that he had escaped. He thought sleeping with soldiers’ wives might be an easier way than this to find companionship.

Morel girded his loins and made a second try, this time at a Protestant mission. Perhaps a man would be more sympathetic. He was taken to a starchy prig. When he heard Morel’s request, the man said, “Never before have I been mistaken for a pimp.” Morel withdrew.

After two failures Morel’s self-esteem hit bottom. His loneliness grew. His shattered self-confidence revived slowly. He felt a hunger for a woman, not only sexual, but also spiritual. He yearned for a companion to share his life, for someone to converse with at dinner.
One night, drinking with a trader spending the night at Cataracts-Sud, he recounted his interview with the ogreish Mother Superior. He spoke of her as a dog-faced hag who growled at him and needed a shave. “She had a mustache,” he said.
“As thick as yours?” asked the trader, his words slurred with drink.
“My mustache becomes me!” insisted Morel. “Hers was—“ He concentrated, then shouted, “Repugnant.” At the moment that was the severest insult he could concoct. “I arrived feeling like a man. She made me feel like a boy.”
The two men chortled drunkenly at how awkward and – worse! – impotent Morel had felt under the Reverend Mother’s scrutiny.
The next morning the trader recalled enough of their laughter to remember that soon he would be visiting a convent school. He quite liked the Mother Superior, a worldly woman, overcome by the world’s sins, who had taken refuge from them in a religious calling.
“Let me sound her out for you,” offered the trader. If she sympathized with a young man’s bush loneliness, he would let Morel know.

In due course another trader passing through Cataracts-Sud stopped by Morel’s office and handed him a letter. “You’re the chap who’s a-questing, right?” said the man. “I think there’s good news here for you.”
Indeed there was. The Mother Superior with experience of the world understood the pain of loneliness and the calls of the flesh. She invited Morel to visit her school.
He immediately made arrangements to journey to that part of the region. When he appeared before this woman, he found an entirely different person from the first Mother Superior he had confronted. Like her sister nun, she peered at him from out of a wimple, but in her former life she had had experience with men. The pleasure of beholding a fine-looking young fellow made her smile. Her eyes sparkled. “The colonial service has a number of handsome officers in it,” she enthused. “I think any number of our young ladies would be happy to be a companion to you.”
“What good news,” said Morel. “Thank you!”
The Mother Superior had, in fact, identified five candidates, fifteen or sixteen years old. They were all rather pretty. “Some African girls are really stunning, you know,” confided this gentlewoman. They also had pleasing personalities.
She suggested that Morel have tea with each candidate. She would introduce them, make sure some rapport was established, then discreetly depart. She suggested that Morel see one girl in the morning and another in the afternoon. When he had seen them all, he could make his choice. At that point the Mother Superior would undertake negotiations with the family of the chosen girl. Morel knew that he would have to pay her father bridewealth. He told his new friend what he could afford.
“The girl and her family will understand that this is not a marriage,” the Mother Superior explained, laying out the details. “But the girl will be pleased to be a white man’s woman. That means she will be prized. When the time comes for you to leave her, she will have no trouble finding a husband, particularly if she gives you a child.”
Morel’s eyes grew large at this remark. He had not thought of him and the companion producing children.
“In the old days before we civilizers came out here,” said the nun, “there was a kind of rental relationship between a man and a woman. Fortunately, those are almost unheard of now, but this is somewhat like those. You must understand that if the girl has a child, that child belongs to her lineage. You’ll have no rights to it.” The nun looked at Morel sympathetically. He nodded his agreement to this stipulation. “A man can become very attached to his children,” noted the Mother Superior. “But if you wanted to leave her, you would have to give up the child. To keep the child you would have to marry her.”
“I understand,” said Morel. He was eager to begin the round of teas.
“If you want, you may ask the girls to shed their clothes,” continued the Mother Superior. “Africans are more modest than we generally are,” noted the nun. “Some will be very reluctant to remove their clothes. But they will oblige you. Some may have scarification designs on their backs. You might want to check on that.” The woman hesitated, then counseled. “During these teas it would not be appropriate for you to be intimate with any of the girls.” She smiled apologetically. “While they are at our school, we encourage them not to sleep with men.”
“I understand,” Morel said again.
The teas began. Morel felt enthusiastic about the process. Young girls were paraded before him to audition for the role of his companion. The ceremony of tea allowed him to assess their manners, their training, their ease or lack of it in being with him. All of the girls were both friendly and pretty; one was striking, a beauty. Morel was pleased at the idea of beholding beauty every day.
Some girls were shy about conversing; his friend helped bolster their confidence. Morel tried humor, teasing, flirtation with all of them. Some remained relaxed when his sponsor left them alone; others let shyness return. Morel did not check for scarification designs on the backs of any of the girls – except the beauty who had none. When the girl stood before him naked, Morel’s throat went dry. He felt breathless, dizzy.
He chose the beautiful girl who had stood before him unclothed. The nun was not surprised. Men were men, after all. She would not announce the choice to the girl until she had negotiated with her family. As it turned out, the beautiful girl’s father would not agree to the arrangement. He expected to make a marriage for her within the next year and anticipated receiving more bridewealth than Morel could afford.
Morel once again felt discouraged. He had pinned all his hopes on winning the beauty. “I suspected you would make that choice,” the Mother Superior told him. “But personally I think it was the wrong one. Living with a woman who is conscious of her beauty is not an easy road. Her father may have done you a good turn.”
“Which one would you have chosen?” asked Morel.
“You and Titi had the most rapport. I thought it was a match.”
So Morel chose Titi. She was fifteen, pretty, with a lively personality, gentle but not docile, with dark skin and laughing eyes. Her family was agreeable to the arrangement. Morel had tea with her again – they were alone – and told her he had chosen her. She seemed pleased. With little urging she took her clothes off and strutted about the room, waving her arms, pleased with both herself and him. Watching her, Morel’s mouth watered.
Titi had only a little French. Their conversations would progress slowly. However, she touched his mustache with delight, this special secret of white men. They had another mystery about them: their skin. Titi communicated that she expected Morel to show her his body.
“What?” Morel asked, surprised.
“Off!” she said, laughing at him. “Tout nu.” Teasing, Titi began to tug at his clothes. When she opened his tunic, she reacted with surprise. His chest was covered with hair. European men were hirsute; African men were not. Titi reached out to touch the nest of hair. She pulled at it. Morel gently pushed her away, offended. They stared at one another.
Titi took hold of his arm. She pinched him. She spit into her hand and rubbed his skin. The white did not come off; it was not ashes as whiteness was in Titi’s village.
“Tout nu,” she repeated, signaling him to continue removing his clothes. He meant to have her and complied. Soon he was totally naked. To overcome his self-consciousness at being stared at, he walked around the room as she had, waving his arms and strutting. They laughed at each other. He felt himself growing erect and covered his groin.
Titi had seen men naked, but never a white man. She inspected Morel, making a circle around him. So completely white! Every part of him! At last she shrugged her shoulders and laughed, willing to give their arrangement a try. As a gesture of acceptance, she reached out to his face, touched his mustache and ruffled her fingers through it.
The next day Morel met Titi’s parents. He transferred the bridewealth to her father. Titi left the convent school that afternoon and went with Morel to the guesthouse.
It did not bother Morel that she seemed to have had some experience with men. After first being together, they sat on their bed, she on his knees, tout nu, laughing and kissing, shaking their heads in bafflement as they exchanged incomprehensible words. Morel rested his hands on her hips; Titi flicked the long points of his mustache back and forth, laughing heartily and whispering, “Si beau! Si beau!”
When he lay beside her that night, his arms about her, his body sated, a grin on his face, Morel felt a satisfaction he had not known for many months.

NORTH OF NAIROBI

At Embu the asphalt paving ended. I did not go far along the murram road before I hit patches of standing water and mud. Once I traveled beyond the area where most people spoke some English, the car slid onto the shoulder and would not move. It was not badly mired, but I could not budge the car myself. I sounded the horn. No one came to help. I was stranded. I paced on the road and swore at everything in Africa that does not work.
After about half an hour a teenaged boy came riding along on a bicycle. He had two long planks of wood strapped to the carrying rack. I waved to him and called, “Could you help me?”
“It is all right,” he answered, slowing and dismounting. “I have helped to push many people from mud. My father often gets himself stuck.”
The teenager carefully laid down his bike so as not to damage the planks and came toward me. “Does your father have a car?” I asked. There would not be many car-owners in this district.
“He borrows a Toyota.” The boy smiled behind his glasses, shyly, but with a knowing resignation. Then he added, “But he does not drive very well.”
The boy examined the position of the car. He smiled and said, “I will look for some people to help us,” and trudged off into the bush. I liked his openness and the curious feeling of confidence he gave me that he would shortly resolve my predicament. And he did. After about twenty minutes he reappeared with half a dozen Africans he had found somewhere. They pushed the car free of the shoulder on the first try. I thanked them all and offered the boy a ride.
We lashed his bicycle and the wooden planks to the rear of the car. As we started along the road, he asked, “Are you the American journalist?” It turned out that he knew my anthropologist friend Edgar and had heard from his father that a journalist was arriving for the weekend. “He is Edgar’s great friend,” said the boy.
I acknowledged that, indeed, I was a journalist. Wanting to be friendly – he had, after all, been friendly to me – and seeing a certain bafflement about me in his eyes, I explained that most overseas journalists reported only on events in places like Nairobi. Nonetheless, I had a hunch that the real life of Africa was in the countryside. So I had come to take a look.
“Will you write about us?” the boy asked.
I said that perhaps I might find something to interest American readers, but perhaps not.
“It is all right,” he told me once again.
“I take it you can direct me to Edgar’s house,” I said. “I’m not sure I can find it from his directions.”
The boy smiled as if to acknowledge that directions were not Edgar’s strong point. Then he said, “I am sorry that it took me so long to get help. But when I speak their language, they hear my accent and they do not trust me.”
I glanced at him. “You are not Mbere then?” I asked.
“I am from Nyanza.” He spoke a sentence or two in a tribal language and watched my reaction. “That was Luo,” he said. “Did you understand it?”
I shook my head. “What are you doing here?”
“I live here. My father is the government officer.”
“You mean the district commissioner?”
The boy laughed. “He is really the agricultural assistant. But he calls himself the government officer to seem more important. The Mbere laugh at him for this.”
“Do you think it’s funny?”
“Yes,” he said after a moment. Then he added, “But in Africa we do not laugh at our fathers.”
“Do you like it here?”
“It is all right.”
“But you’d rather be in Nyanza?”
“Yes, it is my home. My mother is there with my brothers and sisters.” After a pause he added, “My father has taken an Mbere wife.”
“I see.”
“It is difficult,” he said. I glanced across at him. He was looking straight ahead through the windshield and I wondered if he was glad to have someone to talk to about it. “She is no older than I am, and she does not really want me to live in the house.” He fell silent. Then after pointing out a turning, he continued, “She does not speak Luo and she is not happy when my father and I use our own language. But if I speak Mbere, she laughs and calls me ignorant.”
“Do you go to school here?” I asked. He nodded. “And you have friends?”
“A few. But more and more it becomes complicated with them, too.” He gazed pensively at the road. “Last summer all my Mbere friends were circumcised,” he explained. “We Luos do not circumcise. Now my schoolmates think they have become men while I am still a child. And I do not think that Mbere men like it that an uncircumcised child-man like me lives in the same house with one of their women.”
We reached the long, rutted drive to Edgar’s house and I invited the boy to come in and say hello to my host. But he declined. He said that he might come by later in the afternoon. He untied the bicycle and the planks from their perch on the rear of the car and retied the planks to the carrying case. As he was about to ride off down the road, I asked, “Would you mind if I took your picture?”
The request surprised him. Why would I want his picture? Then he smiled shyly, “Will it appear in a magazine?”
“Maybe in a newspaper.”
He seemed pleased at being connected to America in even so tangential a way and posed beside his bicycle. I withdrew the notebook from my jacket pocket and got his name – Stephen – and his age which was 16. Then I asked, “Have you talked to your father about these problems with your schoolmates?”
Stephen nodded. “I asked him to let me go back to Nyanza. Edgar has told him that he should let me return. But my father says that we are all Kenyans now and it does not matter where we live or who is circumcised.” Stephen said nothing for what seemed a long while. “The school fees he would have to pay in Nyanza are higher,” he explained at last. I asked Stephen once again if he would like to come in and say hello to Edgar; perhaps we could have some lunch together. But he refused again very politely. “Perhaps I will come by later on,” he said and rode off.

Edgar’s house was large and stood on a rise of land. It was the former residence, so he’d told me, of the European foreman of the now-defunct British-American Tobacco Company processing plant. It was past 2:30. Hungry and quite thirsty, I was glad to arrive.
But the house was deserted. The doors were all locked. I walked around the house trying them. I hallooed, but no one was about, not even a servant. I was surprised to find the place deserted. Edgar had told me on the phone that he’d be there, drafting a report. But no matter. I took out reading I had brought and made myself comfortable on a porch overlooking the countryside.
In fact, I did not know Edgar well. The first time I met him, shortly after I’d been assigned overseas, he came to lunch with an historian specializing in pre-colonial Africa whom I’d called for a briefing. Edgar was then acting chair of the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. As we ate together at the Faculty Club, a preoccupation intensified the school-masterish formality that he had picked up in some non-California life. He had grown up in English-speaking South Africa, I learned, and without evidence I attributed his fuss-budget quality to the schooling he’d received there.
After attending university Edgar had joined the British Colonial Service during its last years and had served as a District Commissioner in what is now Tanzania. Later he received a PhD in Anthropology from Oxford; his dissertation detailed how life was lived and organized in a small town in the hinterlands behind Accra. During our lunch Edgar said quite frankly that he was fed up with California. Wistfully he mentioned more than once that he still owned land in the Ghanaian town and hoped to retire there.
While we waited for coffee, Edgar acknowledged that he’d become a center of controversy on campus. He had reprimanded a young social anthropologist; “dressed him down,” was his term. This colleague was an iconoclast of romantic reputation who lectured barefoot wearing only khaki shorts and a tank top. Sometimes he did not appear for his classes at all. It was not surprising, Edgar said, given the nature of students, that many of them rallied to the instructor’s defense. But I felt that it had surprised Edgar. I sensed that he still expected to be treated like a DC. Apparently students had picketed his classes; they had written angry letters to the student newspaper. Edgar merely said, “We soldier on.”
After reading on the porch for about fifteen minutes I no longer felt alone. Looking up, I saw an African with a studiedly tweedy look staring at me through the glass of the porch doors. He wore glasses, a tie, a rumpled shirt and suit trousers. He was smoking a pipe and a copy of the Economist hung from his hand. We stared at each other for a moment.
“Is Dr. Pettys around?” I finally asked, rising from the wooden chair.
“No, he’s not,” said the African through the door.
A pause. We continued to stare at each other. “This is his house, isn’t it?”
“Yes, this is his house.”
The African gazed at me without expression, and I noticed that he stood in stockinged-feet. “Dr. Pettys told me he’d be here.”
“He’s in hospital.”
“Is he all right?” I tossed my reading aside. “Look, could you open this door? What’s happened to Dr. Pettys?”
The African smiled, unlocked the door and opened it. “Perhaps I meant ‘at’ hospital,” he said. I felt that he had taken some pleasure in needlessly arousing my concern. “Edgar’s quite all right. The houseboy had an accident, and Edgar has run him to hospital.”
I explained that I had come as a weekend guest and asked if I might come inside. “Yes, please come,” the African said finally. “Have you had any lunch?”
“No, as a matter of fact, and I’m starving.”
“Let’s nip into the kitchen and see what’s there.” I brought my overnight case inside and found the kitchen myself. The stocking-footed African was there, getting beer for us. “There’s tinned meat in the fridge,” he said, “and bread there in the plastic. Make yourself a sandwich if you like.”
I asked, “What happened to the servant?”
“He was putting my bicycle into a shed I use when I don’t come by car. A large pane of glass fell on him. Nasty business.”
“A pane of glass? How did that happen?”
“I’ve no idea. Curious kind of accident, isn’t it?”
“Will the man be all right?”
“Oh, I expect so. These fellows are quite hearty. Here’s to your health.” He lifted his glass to me, drank some beer and padded back into the main room of the house.
When I joined him there, he had settled onto the couch; he had apparently been napping there when I arrived. He was rattling his magazine and noisily sipping his beer. Standing over him I introduced myself, giving my name; I hoped to elicit a corresponding introduction from him. He offered his hand, but without otherwise stirring and then indicated a chair across from him.
“I’m afraid I haven’t any idea who you are,” I said, sitting down.
“Oh,” he replied, “I’m Quentin Owino, the government officer here.”
“Ah ha!” I said, taking fresh interest in the man. I wondered if Stephen had refused my invitations to come inside the house because he knew his father would be there. “Edgar has influential friends.”
My flattery pleased him. He looked up from his paper and smiled. “I am the second most important man in Mbere,” Owino said. “After Edgar.” I smiled at this compliment to my host. “We are great chums,” he added.
“Government officer?” I asked. “What does that mean: District Commissioner?” Owino would know that this was the position Edgar had held. I wondered if he saw himself in the same role, the civilizer’s role.
“One does many jobs in a small place like this,” he replied.
“I think it must have been your son who rescued me from some mud.” I described the boy.
“That would be Stephen,” Owino said. “A jolly good chap, if I may say so.”
“Yes, I quite liked him. I suppose he must miss Nyanza.”
“Did he say that?”
“He merely said his mother was living there.”
“He gets there often enough,” Owino said. “It is best for him to know more than one village.” He smiled. “Travel broadens, as they say. Don’t you agree?”
“I suppose it does. People here accept him, do they?”
“Of course. Why not? We’re all Kenyans now.” He smiled again. “Actually this is great experience for him. Look at the British. They sent their children off to school at the age of six. And they conquered the world.” He laughed. “Stephen is happy here.”
I drank some beer and looked about the room. Owino filled his pipe and continued to watch me. “It must be a great challenge,” I said, wanting to draw him out, “being the government’s officer in a place like this.”
He shrugged this off. “Mbere is not much of a place,” he said. “A small tribe, no political influence, clients of the Kikuyu. Most of the people are ignorant and want to stay that way.”
“But it was chosen as a target area for rural development, wasn’t it? Isn’t that why Edgar’s here?”
“Yes, but how much has been accomplished? Edgar can tell you about that.” Then, perhaps recalling that I was a journalist, Owino fussed at the lighting of his pipe, watching me carefully, wondering if he would be quoted. “But, of course, government service is challenging anywhere,” he commented for safety’s sake.
“You’re being too modest,” I said, pushing him a little. “You are a Luo and that can’t make you very popular here – even if you are all Kenyans.”
He shrugged again and smiled half to himself. “Indeed, there is still some truth to that, regrettably,” he acknowledged. “But I am perhaps unusual. I do not leave the division every weekend, for example, like most government officers. The people respect that. It means that I am less a stranger to them.”
“You and Stephen live as bachelors, do you?”
“We Africans do not make good bachelors.” Owino smiled and punctuated the smile with a shrug. Surely I understood. “I have taken an Mbere wife,” he said. “A year ago. I needed a wife to cook my food and give me sons. Why should I have the expense of keeping a servant?” We laughed together. “You will say I am an exploiter,” he giggled, “but it is not true.”
The sweet scent of his pipe tobacco began to fill the room. Edgar’s house was starting to seem more like the faculty club where I had met him than a living room in rural Africa. Owino smiled with a touch of bravado that masqueraded as pride. “She has already given me a son.”
“You must be very proud of yourself,” I said. “Congratulations.”
He shrugged. “It is a way to show that we are all Kenyans.” Then he added,
“There are many sons left in me. It is good for the Mbere to understand that.”
I sipped some beer. “Maybe I’ll have a sandwich,” I said. I went into the kitchen, found bread, peanut butter and jam and proceeded to make us each a sandwich. I sensed that Owino would be happy to eat Edgar’s food, especially if I prepared it.
He soon entered the kitchen and watched me. Then he challenged: “You perhaps do not think polygamy civilized.”
“I have no views on the matter,” I said. “However, I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated to have two wives than to have only one.”
“It is perhaps less civilized than monogamy,” he said. “But the Mbere regard it as a sign of wealth and prestige. So it has done me no harm to have a local wife.”
“Is it difficult for Stephen?”
“Why should it be?” he asked quickly. I answered with a shrug. “There are no difficulties.” After a moment he added, “Some minor irritations, that’s all. The woman wants to feel important and orders Stephen around. Of course, he does not like it. I tell him to be patient. She does it mainly because she is Mbere and knows she is ignorant. She feels inferior to us.”
I cut the sandwiches in halves, put them onto coffee saucers that did not match and handed the larger sandwich to Owino. “Why not send him back to Nyanza?” I asked.
“A son is a joy to a father – especially a son who is so superior.” I nodded. “You think me unreasonable,” Owino charged.
“How could I? I know nothing about the matter.”
“If I send him back to Nyanza,” he explained. “His mother will put him to work. Ever since I married here, she complains that she has no money. I want Stephen here to make sure he does not neglect his education.” Owino poured us each another beer and we took them and the sandwiches back into the living room. “It is very probable that Stephen will pass his Higher School Certificate Examinations well enough so that the government pays his entire university education.” Owino lowered his voice confidentially. “And I tell you his chances of getting a place at the University of Nairobi, which is entirely run by Kikuyus, are better if he passes from a school in Mbere than one in Nyanza.”
“He should be very pleased with himself here then,” I said.
“Well, yes.” Owino shrugged. “Perhaps he does not like the living arrangements. He has his private room. I wanted to put an outside door in it for him, but it is a government house and this is against regulations. He wanted to build a small house for himself like some of his Mbere friends have done, but that, I think, is asking for trouble.”
“Why is that?” I inquired. I remembered Stephen’s wooden planks. Had he intended them for this purpose?
“Mbere boys build themselves small houses once they are circumcised. We Luos do not circumcise; manhood is more than the cutting off of a foreskin, although some people do not understand this. But if Stephen as an uncircumcised Luo builds himself a hut, there will be trouble. The Mbere do not yet regard him as a man. It is not the sort of trouble that cannot be straightened out. I am the government officer here, after all. Still trouble avoided is the best kind to have.”

We now heard a car pull into the drive. “Must be Edgar,” I said. I started toward the door. Owino lagged behind, putting on his shoes.
Outside Edgar was standing before the Land Rover, peering into the garage where the glass had fallen. In a short-sleeved khaki shirt and work shorts that matched the sandy color of his hair, wearing desert boots and knee socks, his arms akimbo, he seemed never to have stopped being a DC. We shook hands. I said I’d had no trouble finding the place and had had some lunch with the help of Owino.
“Still here, is he?” Edgar’s voice carried an edge of irritation. “We’ve had a real balls-up,” he said. “Owino tell you about it?” I said that he had. “No damn coincidence the glass fell.”
“Foul play?”
“Bloody booby-trap. Meant to fall. Not sure who the intended victim was: me or Owino. I’m damned sure it wasn’t Kamau.”
Edgar wore the expression of fuss-budget impatience I remembered from our first meeting at UCSB. I was amused, but did not show my reaction; booby-traps were a serious matter. In fact, I was glad to see him – and not only because a working anthropologist makes an excellent contact for a journalist covering Africa.
When I first arrived in Nairobi, I often wished I had kept in closer contact with Edgar; I wondered if he were still at UCSB. Then on a reporting trip I saw him at Roberts Field in Liberia. We were waiting for the same plane. I re-introduced myself and we rode together to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where I left the flight.
He had just arrived from the States, he said, after what had been an almost intolerable year at UCSB. “I have never been so ready to leave anywhere,” he said. “Faculty discipline totally collapsed. Faculty-student communication no longer exists.” He had been forced to fire the young anthropologist who had been such a problem. The action had triggered a campus row. Students had demonstrated; some called him a “fascist pig” to his face. Colleagues had questioned his professional credentials, merely because he was born in South Africa. He shook his head as if still not quite able to conceive of what went wrong.
“I’ve never so longed for the order of Africa,” he continued. “Yes, I said: the order. Life in the sophisticated world is too chaotic. That’s why I’ve come back. I may give up teaching.” He had arranged an early sabbatical and would spend the upcoming academic year in Kenya, evaluating an intensive development program in Mbere Division a couple of hours north of Nairobi. The program would be launched almost immediately. He was eager to get started.
Africa had given Edgar a giddy sense of renewal. When we said goodbye on the Freetown tarmac, his joyfulness amused – and also touched – me. “Look at that!” he said enthusiastically. He pointed across the airstrip to a trio of women carrying babies on their backs and clay pots on their heads. They were moving with a peasant grace beneath flowering trees; behind them lay crudely tilled fields and thatched huts. I saw them as elements in an overall picture of stunted personal development and cruel, needless poverty. Edgar saw them as beautiful.
“A classic scene!” Edgar commented, smiling. “Listen to their laughter!” And, indeed, a rich, throaty laughter floated from them through the morning heat and quietude. “They’re in harmony with their environment,” he said. “And their traditions.” He grinned. “How glorious to be back home in Africa!” When my luggage arrived, we shook hands and agreed to meet in Nairobi.
Over the following months we did occasionally meet there. He always invited me to visit Mbere. But whenever I expressed interest in actually doing so, he suggested that I hold off. A few matters remained to be processed through the ministry. “Wait till the project really gets started,” he would say. Behind this excuse I sensed that as a man might want to be alone with his bride, Edgar wanted to be alone with Africa. Since he was unmarried – except to his work – I did not press the matter.
But ministerial delays dragged on. Eventually his invitations became more heartfelt. “You really ought to come,” he would say in a tone of loneliness. “I’d love to talk with an American.” He would add, “I live like a king in Mbere. Really, I’ve begun some ethnography. It’s fascinating stuff.”
By late April annoyance and frustration were sounding in his voice. The ministry had not acted. Misunderstandings, inefficiency and fear of decision-making had delayed the Mbere project by more than a year. His sabbatical was almost over; it had been wasted – at least in terms of his observing a microcosm of rural development and doing scholarly writing about it. Whether or not the ethnography would justify his remaining in Mbere seemed unclear. And so I had agreed to a visit.
“Will Kamau be all right?” I asked now.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “In hospital for a week. I don’t know what we’ll do for chak while you’re here. I cook worse than you do.” He eyed me dryly. “My hunch is that as a chef you’ve given a few blokes the trots in your time.” He looked back into the garage where the glass had fallen. ‘The question right now,” he said, “is what do we do about this?”
A young man now emerged from so deep inside the garage that I had not seen him earlier. He was perhaps twenty, spare and loose-jointed, not tall so much as very slender. He wore a white long-sleeved shirt and dark trousers fastened by a belt so long that it seemed to loop beyond the buckle almost halfway around his body. He had a studious look, emphasized by glasses and a copy carried lightly in his hand of the tabloid-sized Nairobi Daily Nation which he used as a briefcase. He gazed at me without hostility, but I sensed that he was not prepared to accept me merely as a friend of Edgar’s as both Stephen and Owino were ready to do. Instead he would watch to see who I turned out to be. “This is Barnabas,” Edgar said. “The chief informant of my ethnographic study.”
“Hello, Barnabas,” I said, offering my hand which he shook. Since Edgar had not stated the information, I gave him my name and explained that I was an American from Nairobi.
“Journalist,” Edgar said.
Barnabas nodded, but said nothing.
“Barnabas is a local celebrity,” Edgar continued. “Passed his Higher School Certificate Examination. Which only about a dozen boys from Mbere have ever done.”
“Congratulations,” I said, wondering if this were not the exam Owino intended Stephen to pass. I wondered, too, if the time would ever come when Edgar would call a twenty-year-old a “young man” instead of a “boy.”
“Barnabas goes to university next fall,” Edgar went on. “And all the girls in the Division come out to watch him walk by.”
Barnabas smiled and lowered his eyes.
“What would you like to study?” I asked.
“I would like to become a doctor,” he told me. “The people here still practice traditional medicine. But they no longer believe strongly in its cures and so they are not so effective. I would like to bring modern medicine to Mbere.”
“Good,” I told him. “Can you study that in Nairobi?”
“Perhaps I must go to U.K.,” he replied.

Inside the house Edgar made himself a sandwich in the kitchen while I talked with Barnabas and Owino. Before long Owino went to join Edgar. I could not help noticing the look of distrust that Barnabas cast at him as he left.
“I need a favor, old man,” Owino said to Edgar in the kitchen. “You couldn’t lend me five hundred shillingi, could you?” My conversation with Barnabas had not resumed and we both overheard Owino’s request for what would have been about seventy dollars. I glanced at Barnabas.
“Jeremiah up to his old tricks?” we heard Edgar ask.
“I’m afraid so,” Owino told him. I picked up a magazine and thumbed through it. Barnabas opened his copy of the Daily Nation and shuffled through papers. We both heard the conversation continue.
“You’re going to have to stand up to him, you know,” Edgar said.
“But how?” Owino asked. “If I refuse him money, he calls her home and I have no one to cook my meals.”
“Just now I have no one to cook mine either,” complained Edgar lightly.
“But I sleep with this cook,” Owino reminded him. “So it is very hard.”
“Send her and the baby up to Nyanza. Let her see how good you are to her. Let her see what it’s like to be a second wife.”
“She would never go to Nyanza.”
“You’re her husband. Make her go. In any case, I can’t spare more shillingi.”
I glanced again at Barnabas; he was studying me. Since it was obvious that we had both heard the conversation in the kitchen, I asked: “What’s that all about?”
Barnabas paused a moment as if trying to decide if I merited an explanation.
“How about three hundred? Is that possible?”
“I’m sorry, Quentin. The bank is closed.”
Barnabas and I were still looking at one another. He said quietly, “Owino’s wife is the daughter of a local chief. He keeps changing the terms of the bridewealth arrangement because he wants money.”
“I thought bridewealth was fixed at the time of the marriage.”
Barnabas nodded. “But Owino is not Mbere. So when Jeremiah insists that he owes more money, his kinsmen support him. If Owino does not pay, they go to his place and bring his wife and the baby back to her father’s shamba.”
“Why does Jeremiah need money?” I asked.
“He buys cars,” Barnabas said. “Toyotas. Used.”
“He has more than one car?”
“It is not hard to drive a car into the ground here. Especially a used one, badly maintained. Jeremiah never gives care to his cars and when the local mechanics can no longer repair a car he has mistreated, he buys a new one. He bought his fifth Toyota this week. He’s having a beer party for his kinsmen at his shamba today.”
“The kind of money Owino’s asking for in there: that can’t buy a car.”
“It buys the beer,” said Barnabas.
“What buys the cars?”
“Jeremiah sells tribal land to Kikuyu land merchants. They pay him in used Toyotas.”
“Is tribal land his to sell?”
“No. But he is the chief.”
“Can’t you get rid of him?” Barnabas said nothing. “There must be some process for that,” I said.
“In the old days,” he replied, “when a chief outlived his wisdom, people killed him. We can’t do that anymore.”
I detected the slightest of twinkles in Barnabas’ eyes.

Later that day outside Jeremiah’s compound, young men sat drinking beer lolling on the fenders or sitting inside the rusting hulks of four Toyota sedans. Because my car was unknown to them, they stared when it pulled up and parked. When our party left the car and the young men saw who we were, they hailed Edgar in friendship, bidding him to have some beer. They sang out as well at Owino, in a manner that struck me as companionable, but also derisive. His status as government officer won him little respect with this gang. They hailed Barnabas, but he maintained a scholar’s distance from the rowdies. As for Stephen, who had joined us, he too kept his distance. The young men seemed openly scornful of him.
We passed the newest Toyota, bright red and newly waxed. A once-dented front fender, now repaired, had paint of a different, more orange hue. I asked Barnabas about the young men’s taunts. “They say Stephen cannot drink beer,” he explained. “It is not for children. Beer can be drunk only by circumcised men.”
The compound was no more than a collection of mud and wattle huts and granaries with a platform upon which grasses for thatching had been piled. There were also a small, roofed enclosure for calves and a larger cattle corral of thickly packed tree branches and stumps. Edgar led us through it with the measured, imperial pace that I supposed he had used during his tenure as a District Commissioner and had picked up from movie versions of “King Solomon’s Mines.”
We moved forward to greet the patriarch – obviously Jeremiah – who sat on a contraption of bent tree branches shaped into a chair and covered with a cowhide. He had gray bristles for a beard and watched us through half-closed but intelligent and suspicious eyes. As Edgar reached him, he lurched to his feet. They bowed to one another and shook hands. Owino bowed as well, taking the old man’s hand deferentially, holding it in both of his. I was introduced and bowed deeply.
Edgar congratulated the old man on his acquisition of yet another Toyota. He accepted beer and waited while Bentley, one of Jeremiah’s sons, brought him a chair. He said to me in a low voice, “Have Owino give you a shamba tour. He’s worked with Bentley. I’m going to give the old boy what-for about the glass in the garage.”
I collected Owino who had gotten himself some beer and asked to see the shamba. He called to Bentley who ignored him until Edgar intervened and in his best DC manner instructed him to show me around. Barnabas and Stephen tagged along.
As we headed toward the fields, a figure flashed past. Stephen called out, “Anas!” and ran after him. A youth Stephen’s age poked his head around the back of a hut. Barnabas called out to him, a friendly taunting in Mbere. The youth – Anastasio was his name – appeared. He was introduced to me and carefully wiped his hands against his shirt. He gazed at me as if beholding a ghost or some figure of wonder, then offered one of the still-wet hands for me to shake.
“He has never seen an American before,” Barnabas said.
Stephen explained that we were old friends; he had rescued me from mud. “Anas” was impressed. Stephen grinned and asked, “Were you carrying water?”
Anas seemed uncertain what to say. But since his shoes and pants legs were splattered, the answer was clear.
“It is all right!” said Stephen with a laugh. “I won’t tell. Barnabas doesn’t care. And Bentley won’t notice.”
Anas looked up ahead where Owino was walking with Bentley. “It is so much easier for me to carry it than for her to,” he said. “And anyway we are in higher school now and they are telling us things must change.”
“I am going to build my house,” Stephen told Anas. “Will you help me? Or do you have to stay and drink beer in those dead cars?”
“I can help you,” Anas replied softly. “You helped me.”
Barnabas looked concerned at hearing this declaration. He slowed his pace to separate himself from the others and since I was walking with him, I slowed as well. I asked about the shamba’s crops. He pointed out those in a five-acre plot: cow peas, finger millet, sorghum and maize, subsistence crops all laid out in precisely straight rows. A three-acre section was devoted to cotton, Jeremiah’s cash crop. “Owino has made quite a good shamba here for Jeremiah and Bentley,” he said. He added, “It could do with a bit of weeding.”
“What was all that about the water?” I asked. Barnabas glanced at me with a look of either confusion or defensiveness, I was not sure which. I persisted, “Is there something about Anas carrying water that is…” I let my voice trail off.
Barnabas said nothing for a moment, then decided to speak. “Anas is a man now. He has been circumcised.”
“And carrying water: that’s women’s work?” On the drive up from Nairobi I had seen women struggling with large drums of water on their backs. They supported the drums, their necks straining, on tumplines that stretched across their foreheads. In Kikuyu villages I had seen women who had carried water this way for so long that tumplines had formed depressions across their foreheads.
“Traditionally carrying water is the work of women,” Barnabas said. I made no reply. After a moment he continued, “Anas does not like to see his mother carrying water. He is much stronger than she is. But the other men here say that it is her job. So he does it when he hopes they will not see.”
We walked on and I thought of the men drinking beer in the derelict Toyotas. After a moment I said lightly, “Sometimes my women readers ask me exactly what it is that African men do.”
Barnabas smiled, but said nothing.

When we caught up with the others, Bentley was bending over a mesh trap he had built to cover a hole in the ground. Caught in the trap were dozens of flying ants. They resembled large-bodied balls of fat the size of a little finger to the first joint; to these succulent blobs Nature had attached long, transparent wings. On these the fattened ants flew out of the ground, venturing forth to start new colonies.
I had encountered such ants in my own yard. I had even felt terrorized by the fluttering of their wings for the entire experience was like an eco-horror movie come true. I had learned not to step on the ants. Wherever I squished them, they left grease spots that lasted for months and I could not wear the shoes indoors.
Now Bentley stuck his hands beneath the mesh and extracted a handful of the ants. Some were motionless; the wings of others still fluttered. He closed the trap and transferred the ants into a woven basket he carried. He withdrew his hand with one of the insects held between his fingers. He closed the basket, ripped the wings from the specimen he held and plopped it into his mouth. He closed his eyes. He smiled as a child might with candy. The other Africans gathered around him, begging him to open the basket. When he did, they each reached in, withdrew insects, removed their wings and ate them, chattering and laughing at the pleasure of the delicacy.
After a while Stephen came over to me, carrying several ants in a nest made of his hands. Barnabas and Anas tagged behind him. “Please,” he said. “Would you like?”
I smiled. “No, thank you,” I replied.
“They are delicious,” Anas assured me.
“I’m sure they are.”
“You will not have?” Stephen asked again.
When I declined, Stephen and Anas watched me with fascination, grinning, smacking and licking their lips as they plucked wings from the ants and tossed them into their mouths. Barnabas stood several paces away and watched me as well, eating ants as one might eat popcorn one kernel at a time.
“You think we are barbarians, don’t you?” he challenged. “For eating ants.”
“No,” I said.
“Then why not have one?” he asked.
“Not my thing,” I said. “I couldn’t eat snails in France. Or greasy meat pies in England. I don’t like tofu in Nigeria. Or in California.”
Stephen and Anas watched me, grinning and eating. Barnabas studied me, unsure what to make of me. I realized that trotting out the places I’d been only exaggerated the differences between us.
Before I could think of a way to close the gap, we heard Owino and Bentley arguing. “But you must weed if you want good crops,” Owino declared. Bentley shrugged off this advice, fiddling with the trap that he had now completely cleaned out. “If you don’t weed, the worms will eat them, not your family.” Bentley shook his head. He checked the trap again and moved off.
As we followed him back to the compound, Owino said: “He won’t weed.”
“It is women’s work,” said Anas.
“Well, where is his wife? Why doesn’t she weed? They will lose their crops.”
“She is eating right now at her father’s shamba,” said Anas.
“And he is surly to me because he’s sleeping alone?” Owino dusted off his trousers and tightened the knot of his tie. “It is not my fault he’s sleeping alone.” We walked for a moment in silence. “Bentley has a good garden there, thanks to my advice,” Owino said. “But he won’t even do weeding for his own good. What ignorance!”
“It is not ignorance!” Anas said, obviously annoyed with Owino. “It is tradition.”
I was surprised he spoke so forthrightly to a man so much older.
“Traditions are holding you back,” replied Owino. “Time to abandon them.”
“If we abandon our traditions,” Anas replied, “we stop being Mbere.”
“Is that a loss?” Owino asked. “What have the Mbere ever achieved?”
“Why do you say that?” Barnabas retorted. “You are not superior to us.”
“No,” Owino agreed, “I am not superior to you. But education is better than ignorance. Doing a little work is better than being lazy and drunk all the time.”
“Let’s not argue,” Stephen said. “We are all friends.”
“If education makes you superior to us,” Barnabas asked, “why do you make yourself unclean with one of our women.”
“I am not looking for an argument. We are all Kenyans now. We must all work for a more productive Kenya. You know that’s all I meant.”
We walked the rest of the way back to the compound in silence. We found Edgar at the Land Rover, showing a rifle to Jeremiah and the drunken young men who watched in confused silence from the hulks of the abandoned Toyotas. I took it that Edgar had told Jeremiah about the glass positioned in his garage to do injury to someone. Now, by displaying the rifle, he was emphasizing that he would take action against anyone caught setting traps at his house. Perhaps this was the way a District Commissioner would handle matters in what, to me, was clearly a bygone era. Glancing at the sullen expressions of the men listening to Edgar, I wondered what their reactions would be to his treating them this way.

When we left, Owino stayed at Jeremiah’s compound. He insisted that Stephen remain as well despite the taunts the drunken layabouts still directed toward him. No one urged the pair to remain, I noticed. I was not certain why Owino insisted. Perhaps it was the availability of free beer. Or perhaps he thought that he and Stephen should try to firm up relations with the locals.
Edgar wanted to give his two informants, Barnabas and Anas, new assignments and took the four of us to a village shop where he bought us chai, local tea brewed as dark and thick as a soup. As Edgar rattled on about the new material he wanted, the two young men studied me. The presence of an American seemed to make it impossible for them to concentrate on Edgar’s instructions. Once we were alone I would apologize for spinning such webs of fascination.
After a time Barnabas asked me, “Will you write a story about us for your newspaper?”
“I’ve been wondering about that,” I acknowledged. I asked what they considered newsworthy about Mbere. What in the Division might interest my readers? They seemed stumped at first, but finally settled on the fact that the situation of their lives was gradually improving. I did not tell them that such a report would baffle my editors, people who thought news should emphasize problems and prophesy crises. I told them I was glad to learn about improvements. But I admitted that some things mystified me. “For example,” I said, “will Stephen ever be accepted in Mbere?”
The two young men looked at one another as if each hoped the other would deal with the question.
“Or is he accepted?” I went on. “His father keeps saying that all of you are Kenyans now. Is that true? Is the problem that I just don’t see it?”
They shrugged. They glanced at one another and then at Edgar. He smiled encouragingly, interested to see how they would handle this test.
Barnabas offered, “Well, we are all Kenyans now. That’s true.”
“So it doesn’t matter that Stephen is old enough to be a man and yet he is not circumcised?”
They were silent. Then Anas said, “Owino is not circumcised and everyone accepts that he is a man.” He added, “Stephen is my friend. I accept him as a man.”
I said I had the impression that the layabouts at Jeremiah’s did not.
“What exactly is the problem?” asked Edgar. “Is it circumcision or tribalism?”
The young men seemed uneasy at the mention of tribalism. It was a subject that must be discussed very discreetly.
“Things are changing,” Barnabas said. “But it takes time. Twenty years ago when it came time for my oldest sister to be circumcised, my father announced that he would not allow this ritual to be performed on any of his daughters. And he had eight of them.”
“Why was this?” I asked.
“Because it’s painful. It hurts women. In male circumcision the body is not really damaged. The pain lasts only a few days. With women it is different.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Quite a famous story hereabouts,” Edgar said.
“My father made his declaration and everyone opposed him. His parents. His brothers and their wives. My grandmother insisted that no Mbere girl achieved full womanhood unless she passed through this test. But my father held firm. When his parents and other villagers insisted it must be done, he moved away.”
“And he’s come back now?” I asked.
Barnabas nodded. “His mother lives with us now in the compound. Some of my uncles live there, too. My father has made things change. Maybe it is not so important about Stephen.”
“What do you say?” I asked Anas.
He seemed unwilling at first to reply. When no one else spoke, he finally said, “My father is a chief. He upholds tradition.”
“Owino claimed you should abandon tradition,” I said.
“How can we do that?” Anas asked. “I think my father is right. If we abandon our traditions, we will stop being Mbere.” He paused for a moment. Then he added, “But Stephen is my friend. I don’t know what to say. I accept him as a man whether he has a foreskin or not.”

Edgar and I found enough tins in the pantry to make ourselves some chak. While eating it, I asked how Jeremiah had reacted to receiving “what for.” “His dignity is offended, of course,” Edgar acknowledged. “But he’ll get the word out. That’s the important thing.”
We talked about his informants and I tried out some of my impressions on Edgar. I said that Barnabas struck me as being one of the new men of Mbere, of Kenya. Whereas, while Stephen and Anas were standing poised on the threshold of manhood, thrilled by the wider world opening before them, Barnabas had already crossed that threshold. He had taken a look at the world beyond it and had seen an alien culture with alien values, Western culture, white man’s modernity. “Going to university,” I said, “he’s about to step out of the tribal culture into the modern one, right? Must be a scary prospect.”
“Yes and no,” Edgar replied. “Barnabas will spend much of his life traveling between the two cultures. He’ll live with two sets of values, two styles of living.”
“Will he study medicine?” I asked.
Edgar thought that unlikely. “The government will tell him what to study and what they need are people trained in agriculture. If Mbere Division is fortunate, Barnabas will practice what he’s learned here. But most agriculture officials gravitate to the high-income areas. He may do that.”
“Will he turn out to be Owino then?”
“I hope not,” Edgar said. “Quentin’s been shunted off to a backwater where he can do little good and little harm. Why, I’m not sure. Must have crossed someone. Or infuriated someone by trying to be a white man.” Edgar assumed that upward mobility for Barnabas, who had an intellectual bent, would come through teaching and advanced degrees. “He might provide the brains for a successful agri-business – if he can partner himself with a man who has contacts. Probably a Kikuyu. Tough getting ahead when you’re from a minor tribe.”
“What about Anas? Always a peasant?”
“He’ll finish school here. Maybe even manage a decent pass for his school certificate. Then he’ll dash off to Nairobi. What happens then is anyone’s guess.”
“And Stephen?”
“A complicated question,” Edgar said. “Barnabas is stuck being forever an Mbere. And there are times when that will seem a real prison. Stephen is going to be what his father has in mind when he says: ‘We are Kenyans.’ We won’t know for a while whether that means he’ll be nothing or a new kind of–”
There was a sharp knocking at the door. Then suddenly Barnabas was standing in the kitchen, panting hard, a look of terror on his face. “Could you come?” he asked Edgar. “Stephen’s been hurt.”
“What’s happened?”
Barnabas looked at Edgar, then at me as if in my presence he could not speak. “You can tell us,” Edgar said. “What’s happened?”
Finally he managed to say, “They circumcised him.”
Edgar and I did not understand. We frowned at one another.
“Please come,” Barnabas pleaded. “They circumcised him. And the knife–”
“Where is he?” Edgar stood. He shoved his plate aside and nodded to me.
“He’s at Jeremiah’s,” Barnabas said. “They slit the top of–”
“Can you drive?” Edgar asked me. “I’m low on petrol.”
We hurried outside to the car. Edgar sat beside me in the passenger seat and Barnabas crawled into the back. I raced over unfamiliar roads in the dark. Edgar gave me directions and questioned Barnabas.
He reported that several hours after we left the compound Jeremiah and Owino argued about the bridewealth payment Jeremiah insisted Owino owed him. The young men drinking in the Toyotas sided with Jeremiah. They eventually went to Owino’s house to fetch his wife and bring her home, intending to keep her at Jeremiah’s until the bridewealth debt was paid. At Owino’s they discovered Stephen and Anas who had begun to build Stephen’s house.
The young men objected to this: Stephen was acting like a man, but he was not yet circumcised. They taunted and baited Stephen. A fight broke out. They seized both young men and took them back to the compound. There Jeremiah as chief would rule on whether or not Stephen could build the house. But Jeremiah wasn’t there. The young men had more beer. Eventually they decided to settle the matter themselves. They stripped Stephen. When Anas tried to stop them, they tied him up. Five men held Stephen down, one on each of his arms and three on his legs. The man who wielded the knife sliced through most of the foreskin. Then his hand slipped. The knife had cut into the tip of Stephen’s penis.

When we got to Jeremiah’s place no one was around except the old man. He was dead drunk on too much beer – or pretending to be – sitting in his newest Toyota. Barnabas shouted repeatedly for Stephen. At last we heard whimpering and found him cowering in bushes in a fetal ball. He was holding a cloth to his groin and bleeding. He would not let us see the bleeding. I got a blanket I kept in the trunk of the car and cloaked him in it. When he would not stand, remaining coiled into himself, whimpering, Barnabas, Edgar, and I lifted him and carried him to the car. We placed him on the rear seat. We had to leave Barnabas behind; there was no room for him in the car. Edgar held Stephen’s hand. Once we hit the Nairobi road, he climbed into the rear seat. He held the boy like a father while I drove as fast as I dared through the black night.

When we got to Nairobi Hospital, nurses put Stephen on a gurney and rolled him into a surgery. Edgar in high DC dudgeon insisted on accompanying him. The head nurse telephoned a surgeon. When he arrived and saw me, he waved. He was an American I had met socially. I knew he would do the best he could.
The doctor insisted that Edgar leave the surgery. He joined me outside where the air was cool and the darkness peaceful. “Those infernal Africans,” he said. “Drunken louts. How could they!”
I said nothing.
“I’m fed up with Kenya,” Edgar went on. “This has been an intolerable year. I can’t wait to get back to teaching people who want to learn.”
I moved off and paced. Eventually I found another entrance to the hospital. I went inside and waited near the surgery.
Finally the doctor emerged. Stephen was going to be all right, he said. He had removed the foreskin and repaired the wound to the tip of the penis. “His equipment won’t win any beauty contests,” the surgeon said. “But he’ll be able to father children.”
“That’s a relief,” I replied.
“He may not have as much pleasure doing it as most men,” he continued, “but he’ll be able to do it.”
I thanked the surgeon and went to find Edgar. I told him the news and we went to the car. As we drove to my house through the darkness, neither of us spoke.

MADAGASCAR

When Graeme Owen left the embassy, he tried to appear offhand. “Say,” he suggested to Tom Swayze, “could we do coffee?” They were in Antananarivo, the capital of the island nation of Madagascar, and Graeme had just interviewed the American Ambassador. As press attache, Tom had set up the interview. “I’d like to check a few things.”
Tom regarded Graeme through the dark glasses he had just put on, measuring him, suspicious perhaps of the “do coffee” phrase. Then he said, “Sure. There’s a place nearby.”
They walked to a milkbar. As they approached it, a young woman – French, in her early 20s – left the place. Seeing Tom, color came to her cheeks. She smiled and offered her hand. Tom smiled back, his eyes affectionate. He introduced her to Graeme simply as Vivienne and lingered with her a moment. Graeme went on inside the milkbar. He understood that Tom and the woman were lovers.
He thought: How Gallic! How American! This was certainly not Johannesburg where Graeme lived. Never on the super-conventional streets of that place would a man Tom’s age – he must be 38 – act in a way that notified the world that he and a young woman had sex. Yet Graeme also felt thrilled. A curious worldliness gripped – and agitated – him. This kind of freedom South Africans did not yet enjoy. In its presence Graeme felt both stimulated and nervous.
After Vivienne hurried off, the two men had coffee on a terrace. Graeme verified quotes and some spellings, then confessed, “My bosses want sexy copy out of Madagascar. I’m not sure I can provide it.” Sexy: he figured that was something an American would understand. But Swayze only smiled.
“Actually it’s a couple of kilometers short of astonishing that I got sent here,” Graeme went on – even though “sent” was not precisely the word. Graeme had told his editors at the South African Press Service, where local news was the mainstay, that he and his wife were planning a vacation in Madagascar. He asked SAPS to pick up a week’s expenses for them in exchange for a series of situationers.
“Situationers, man?” his editors had asked. “About what? Nothing’s going on there.” Graeme had reminded them that within the past year Madagascar had experienced a change of government almost as revolutionary as the one South Africans had lived through. SAPS readers might want to know how change was working in one of their closest neighbors. Graeme stressed that he would pick up the travel costs; he had the time coming. Finally his editors agreed. But with stipulations. “When we get it, man,” they warned, “that copy better sing!”
Once SAPS approved the plan, Graeme told Nella that he was being sent on assignment to the island nation. She did not want to join him – she was pregnant, after all – but he insisted. The trip, he stressed, was sure to lead to better things for him. For them. “You’ve never been outside the Republic,” he reminded her. “Time you went.” Nella agreed only at her father’s urging. Andries DeKock was impressed that SAPS had sufficient confidence in Graeme to send him on an overseas assignment.
To win Tom’s trust, Graeme joked about his own people. Tom smiled, aware of being courted. Finally Graeme said, “You wouldn’t know how a bloke like me could get a job on an American paper, would you? I’ve got to get to the States.”
“Why?” Tom asked. “It’s out of control. Full of crime, pollution, violence.”
“And opportunity. Which is one thing we don’t have in South Africa.”
Tom said, “You play your cards right, there’s opportunity for you.”
“South Africa will go the way all Africa has gone,” Graeme predicted. “Crime. Corruption. Tribal slaughter.” Tom shrugged. “Maybe that’s opportunity for a journalist. But I’ve got a wife. She’s expecting a baby.”
Tom finally said, “My speaking frankly won’t insult you, will it?”
Graeme managed a smile. “Is it going to be that bad?”
“I’ve visited South Africa,” Tom said. “In so many ways you’re thirty, forty years behind us. You’re just beginning to do away with race. We in America are doing away with families. An outsider like you can’t catch up with our pace of self-destruction, not in a cutting edge profession like journalism. The question, of course, is why you’d want to.”
Graeme did not know what to say. Tom watched him as if he were an unfamiliar life-form that might be worthy of study, perhaps from outer space.
“You said your wife’s with you?” Tom asked. Graeme nodded “Why don’t you stay with me?” Graeme’s surprise was so obvious that Tom smiled. It struck Graeme that an American journalist would have masked his reaction. Perhaps he did have some catching up to do.
“I know how the hotels are,” Tom said. Again Graeme felt himself being scrutinized. “I’m single, but I’m assigned a mansion. So I have plenty of room. I’m sure your wife would be more comfortable there.”
Graeme made no effort to hide his delight. “I know Nella would be glad to be in a home,” he said. Let Tom study him, he thought. He wanted to study Tom.
“We could go up to Antsirabe for the weekend,” Tom suggested. “It’s an old French watering-hole on the high plateau. You ought to see it. I could bring a friend along.”
“I’d love that,” Graeme said. Nella might refuse to go on a weekend with a couple who were not married, but he would persuade her. He felt sure she would like Vivienne. “Let me try it on my wife,” he said. “I’m sure she’ll agree.”

Tom put the Owens into the guest wing of his house. It was like no set of rooms Graeme had ever seen. In the hall expensively framed photographs of Africans hung. One showed a tall, slender girl, naked except for a necklace. With a stately, sculptural grace, she stood before a river, oblivious to her nakedness. “Gracious!” exclaimed Nella. The corners of her mouth tightened. But the photographs awakened in Graeme an awareness of Africa’s primitive beauty.
The guest bedroom contained the largest bed Graeme had ever seen. “A sandbox for the senses,” he said, laughing. He immediately regretted the words, for Nella shuddered. He could see her wondering how many people had soiled the sandbox.
While Nella was in the bathroom, Graeme picked up several books from the bedside table. They were paperbacks, illustrated scenarios of artsy soft-porn films. Graeme recognized the titles. The films would not be shown in South Africa, at least not in cinemas that he was likely to patronize. He thumbed through the books. One contained a photo essay, stunningly designed, of a man and a woman having sex; it showed how their bodies joined. The man was black, the woman white.
Graeme studied the photos with rapt disbelief. His throat thickened; saliva flooded his mouth. He had seen photos of sex taken in Swaziland brothels, but in those the men were white and the women black. He had never seen anything like this. When Nella entered, she asked, “What’s that?” Graeme blushed and closed the book. She pulled it from him and opened it. When she saw the photographs, she threw the book into a chair.
“What kind of place is this?” she asked. “Wait till you see the photos in the bathroom! I knew we shouldn’t come.”
In fact, when Graeme broached the idea of staying with Tom Swayze, Nella blurted out, “But we don’t even know him!”
“I want to see how Americans live,” he replied. “This is our chance. Anyway, he seems a good sort.”
Graeme had a theory that people developed long-term interests in those they helped. So he gave anyone who might possibly assist him the opportunity to do so. He intended that Tom would help him get to America.
“There’s one of those bidet things in there,” Nella said of the bathroom. She gathered up the books and handed them to Graeme. “I won’t sleep in the same room with these.”
In the bathroom Graeme found expensive, scented soap, recently used, lying in the bidet soap dish. Toys lay in a rack beside the bathtub: wind-up frogs, swans that floated, a water pistol. On a wall two photographs hung. One showed twin boys sitting naked on training potties. Tom himself smiled from the other photograph. He, too, was naked, perched spread-legged on a toilet; one of the twins, a year or two older, sat naked before him, now a master of the pot. The photograph made Graeme smile; it seemed an invitation to enjoy life.
“Well, what did you think?” Nella asked when he returned to the bedroom.
“I thought it was funny. You don’t really see anything.”
“What about the pictures in those books?”
Graeme shrugged. He shoved the books under the bed. Nella seemed relieved. She sat on the bed, tired and puzzled. “Do you think Tom’s playing some kind of joke on us?” she asked.
“I think he just lives this way. Maybe Americans have this kind of stuff around their homes.”
“Then why does he want us here?”
“He’s hospitable.” Graeme lifted Nella’s suitcase onto the bed beside her. “Maybe he’s lonely. Maybe he’s interested in us.”
“But why?”
“I asked him about emigrating to the States,” Graeme said. “I think he’d like to help.”
Tears began to stream down Nella’s cheeks.
“It wouldn’t be forever.” Nella said nothing. “Just while I got some training, some American experience that I– Why don’t you take a nap, Nell? You’re tired.”
“How long would it be?”
“Two years. Maybe three.” He tried to smile. “That’s not forever. Come on and take a nap.”
She kicked off her shoes and lay down. “What are you going to do?”
“I should do a story. I made some notes this morning.” He opened the suitcase, fished his wife’s dressing gown out of it and covered her with it. “You mustn’t get overtired, Nell.”
“I’m sorry to be this way,” she said. He kissed her forehead and saw fresh tears in her eyes.
“What is it?”
“I can’t sleep in the same room with those books.”
“Sweet one!” Graeme embraced her, careful not to place his weight against the baby. He took the books from under the bed, got his laptop and found a room down the hall. Before starting to work, he thumbed again through the paperbacks. His throat thickened; he shook his head. It seemed astonishing to him that societies existed – even functioned successfully – where such books were not banned. Once he laid the books aside, he found it difficult to work.

Tom was going to a party and asked the Owens to accompany him. Nella begged off; she was too tired, she said. With her eyes she implored Graeme to stay with her. He knew she felt ungainly, but he would not forego the opportunity to socialize with diplomats as a friend of Tom’s. And, indeed, Tom seemed to know everyone. At the party Graeme met Lucie and Joelle, both French, two Marie-Claires, both Malagasy, and several Chantals. One of these was the Liberian ambassador’s daughter.
“So you’re Tom’s friend” this Chantal said as they chatted in English. “Tell me what you know about him. Has style, doesn’t he?” She watched Graeme with an amused expression as the party’s gossip drifted about them in French.
Graeme nodded. “He’s very ‘hip,’ as Americans say.”
“The most glamorous man in Antananarivo.”
“That covers a lot of territory, I expect.”
“But so does Tom.” Chantal laughed slyly. “But maybe you do, too, eh? I think I like you.”
“I rather like you,” Graeme heard himself saying. The words surprised him.
“You have a funny accent.”
“In my country only the best-educated people speak this way,” he replied exaggeratedly, conscious of trying to charm her. He was not doing anything behind Nella’s back, he told himself. He was merely performing a patriotic duty: proving that white South Africans were human beings. He noticed the light glowing in Chantal’s Bantu eyes and the milk-chocolate fineness of her skin. “I’m one of those people,” he said. “I went to our best university.”
“Harvard?”
“Witswatersrand.”
“Oh, bloody shit!” she said. “I assumed you were American.”
“Do I say thanks?”
She cocked her eyebrow, a glint of irony flashing in her eyes. “Is South Africa different these days? Or is it the more things change the more they’re the same?”
“A little of both,” he said. “Does it bother you that I’m South African?”
She studied him, started to say something, then changed her mind.
“You can say it,” Graeme told her. “I’m a consenting adult.” She laughed. Graeme glowed at the success of his banter. He wondered what Nella would think of his flirting – and was annoyed with himself for wondering.
“Does it bother you that my mother’s French and my father from West Africa?”
“You’re beautiful,” Graeme said. “They obviously do good work together.” She smiled. He felt pleased with his compliment. At the same time he wondered at the words, at the way they tumbled out. What made me say that, he asked himself – and to a Bantu! He never talked that way to women at home.
Chantal gazed at him, glowing with his compliment. “Would you like to make love to me?” she asked. Graeme was dumbfounded. She smiled, enjoying his confusion. “There’s a bedroom upstairs.”
Graeme swallowed. Had he heard her correctly? She gazed at him – with a look of readiness. Graeme blushed.
“What a lovely color,” she teased. “Let’s go upstairs. We can lock the door.”
Graeme felt flummoxed. He reached for his drink and took a long swallow.
“Have I embarrassed you?” Chantal asked, delighted. “Let me read your palm. Maybe we’ll find the answer there.” She took his hand. “My grandfather’s a witchdoctor. He taught me.” Graeme looked at her quizzically. She laughed. “He
really did,” she said. Her hands held his softly. Graeme finished off his drink.
“I see this trip,” she said, studying his palm. “It’s a landmark in your life.” She paused. “Just a minute. What’s this?” She looked deeper, turned his palm toward the light. “I see… A girl. You will have a romance here.”
“On Madagascar!” Graeme pulled his palm away, grinning. “That will surprise my wife!”
“Is she here?”
“She’s at Tom’s. She needs her sleep. She’s seven months pregnant.”
“Double bloody shit!” Chantal laughed, covering her mouth with her hand, her eyes shining. “Have I said the wrong thing!” She moved closer to him, still giggling, her breast pushing against his arm. “In fact, I know nothing about palms,” she confessed. “My grandfather was a diplomat like my father. All I know is
that men in strange countries like that fortune. It’s the only one I know.”
They laughed together. Chantal took his arm and led him to a couch. They sat and talked quietly like friends. She told him of the places she had lived and what she thought of them. He knew that Nella would not have liked nor trusted their rapport. Neither would she have understood the sense of freedom Graeme felt in talking openly with this dark-skinned woman. But he did not think of Nella; she was home asleep.
Later someone put Malagasy music on the CD player. It pulsed with surging, intoxicating rhythms. The guests began to dance. They determined to teach Graeme some of the island’s folklore. “Come on, it’s easy,” Chantal said. “I’ll show you.”
Graeme smiled, but shook his head. It was one thing to talk with this woman, but something quite different to dance with her. For Nella’s sake, he could not do that. “I really don’t dance,” he told Chantal. She grinned, standing before him, his hands in hers. Playfully she attempted to pull him to his feet.
“I’m dreadfully clumsy,” he pleaded. “Really I am.”
“Come along,” Chantal urged. “I promise not to take you upstairs.”
“Debout! Debout!” the Malagasy guests chanted.
“I can’t!” Graeme called out over the music. He wanted to dance. But he could not break faith with Nella, not when she was pregnant. “Really, I can’t.”
Chantal tossed her shoulders invitingly, sexily. Graeme shook his head. He felt himself excited, his body responding to her. That made him afraid. He pulled his hands away. Chantal suddenly froze, offended, angry. “It has nothing to do with you,” Graeme said quickly. He stood. “My wife wouldn’t–”
Chantal turned from him. She picked her way across the crowded room. He followed, took her by the arm. “All right then. Let’s dance.”
“Let go of me!” she whispered furiously. She jerked free and ran upstairs. Graeme started after her, but stopped himself. No, he told himself, he mustn’t be upstairs with her. He went outside. When he returned to the party, he watched Chantal, but he talked only with men, mainly Americans.

While packing for Antsirabe, Nella expressed reservations about the trip. “Maybe if I spoke French,” she said. “I know this girlfriend of Tom’s won’t like me.”
“I’m sure she will,” Graeme replied. “Tom wouldn’t bring someone you can’t talk to.” He assured her that when she saw Tom and Vivienne together, she would know that special feelings existed between them. Those feelings weren’t the same as marriage, that was true, but the world was changing. Who knew that better than South Africans? Special feelings were enough for now. He promised that she and Vivienne would get along.
When the Owens went down to meet Vivienne, they were surprised to find Chantal in Tom’s car. “Nice to see you again,” Graeme said to her. Nella seemed disoriented. How did her husband know this Bantu woman? She regarded her with distrust and glared at him as if he had intentionally deceived her. He introduced them. “Chantal and I met at that party Tom took me to,” he explained. Nella shook the woman’s hand and laced her arm through Graeme’s.
She was still holding onto him when Tom finished loading the trunk. “Nella,” he said, “why don’t you sit in front with me?” Graeme felt Nella’s grip on his arm tighten. She glanced at him; he saw the uncertainty in her eyes. “You’ll be more comfortable up here,” Tom explained.
“You won’t feel the bumps so much there, Koekie,” Graeme pointed out. He smiled and she agreed, thanking them all for their thoughtfulness.
As Graeme climbed into the rear seat, his arm brushed against Chantal. He settled into a corner, away from her, but his arm where he touched her tingled. He thought of her standing before him, imploring him to dance.
The car started off. As Tom chatted with Nella, driving through the suburbs of Antananarivo, past horse carts and rice fields and the plateau people’s burial tombs, Graeme and Chantal did not once look at one another. But Graeme thought only of her: her skin so dark and lustrous, the scent she gave off, her laugh and teasing wit.
At lunch he talked sociably with his three companions, prattling actually, not always making sense, because in fact he was conscious only of Chantal. He rarely addressed her directly, yet never stopped watching her. Nella did not notice. She sat beside him like a mindless lump of matter, her hand resting on his forearm. Tom chatted with the maitre d, playing at being gourmet.
When conversation lapsed, Graeme gazed at the hills, seeing nothing, aware only of Chantal’s dark fingers, of the way they held the straw, of her dark lips taking the straw and drawing Coca-Cola into her mouth. Agitated, he patted Nella’s hand. She gave him the bovine smile she had begun to wear in pregnancy. He returned the smile, not thinking of Nella, thinking: Chantal is so slender; she moves so lightly.
At the end of the meal Nella waddled off to the ladies’ room. Tom left to compliment the chef. After a long moment Graeme said: “You’re so beautiful, Chantal. If I were single and living here, I’d want to see you.”
He asked himself: What’s happening? Why am I saying just what I’m thinking? Even so, he had a feeling of release, of pleasurable danger, in saying such things to her. And yet he was afraid to look at her. She did not answer him.
“I do apologize for the other night,” he said. “I told you I was clumsy.” He managed to look at her at last.
She gazed at him. “I accept your apology.”
“I really meant no offense.”
“I wasn’t offended.”
An urge to touch her seized him. In order to control it he stood.
Later in the car he surrendered to the urge. Their knees touched as Tom swung the car around a curve. Graeme allowed his knee to rest against hers. A strange sensation of heat swept over him. He glanced at her legs, at the short skirt. Then at her eyes. She was watching him. Her expression was enigmatic, neither friendly nor hostile. He smiled slightly, without full control of his features, and removed his knee.
Later, as he tried to nap, the car’s swaying sent his knee against the outside of her thigh. The drowsiness vanished immediately. He feigned sleep so as not to withdraw the knee. His mind threw up unbidden images from the books he had seen in Tom’s house. His thoughts grew snarled: by the warmth of her African skin, by his own uncertainty about what he was doing, by the beating of his heart.
He pretended to wake. Withdrawing his knee, he rolled down his window, muttered, “Sorry,” in Chantal’s direction and held his breath. She smiled again, less enigmatically now. Graeme thrust his face into the airstream. He watched Madagascar’s rice paddies flash past. Their new shoots made a green blur. After the breeze had cooled him, he glanced over at Nella. She sat in dreamy contentment – like a great overripe pear – musing about the baby. Graeme relaxed. He felt more absent from his wife than if he had left her at home.

A Malagasy bellboy, dark-skinned but slight, with straight black hair, led the two couples down a stuffy corridor of the Hotel Truchet. Nella moved beside Graeme, still wearing her smile of sublime contentment. “What a nice ride,” she said. “I was thinking of names. I dreamt you let me call him Andries.”
“We’ll see,” Graeme answered. He would not have his son called after his father-in-law, but he was not thinking of that now. As they followed Tom and Chantal, Graeme studied Chantal’s dark, slim legs, watched the round, lustrous part of her left thigh just behind the place where his knee had rested.
“Father would be so pleased,” Nella said. “That would make things easier.”
“The baby may be a girl.” Graeme watched Chantal’s hips.
“We could call her Andrea then,” Nella said.
“What if we later had a boy?”
The reception had assigned them corner rooms. They stood opposite each other at the end of a hall that looked through French doors onto a balcony.
“Do you like the name Andrea?”
Graeme watched Tom close the door behind Chantal and felt suddenly short-tempered. “Do we have to decide now?” The bellboy showed them into their room. “Malagasies look so Oriental!” Nella exclaimed after he had gone.
“You like them better because of it?”
“No,” she replied. “But it does explain the rice paddies and the rickshas.” Then she looked at him defensively. “Are you mad at me?”
“I’m tired, I guess.” Then more softly: “Of course, I’m not mad at you. Why don’t you have a wash?”
There was no door to their bathroom, only plastic strips. Nella made a face. “I’m sorry it’s so French,” Graeme said. He went out onto the balcony.
The balcony spanned the entire end of the building. It contained a wicker table, some chairs and a chaise longue, and it overlooked a garden less well tended now, Graeme was sure, than in the days when Antsirabe had been the Deauville of the island. In the garden wrought-iron benches stood among beds of flowers. A group of people, dark Malagasies and pale Frenchmen and the children of their marriages, sat on them eating cakes. The benches had never borne labels – “Whites Only;” “Non-Whites Only” – and the people seemed happy together. Graeme watched them. He felt a kind of joy, almost an envy, at the naturalness they expressed.
When he looked away, he saw Chantal standing at the opposite end of the balcony. Inspecting her face in a compact, she touched a lipstick to her mouth. As Graeme watched, agitation replaced his joy. Then Chantal looked up. Their eyes met. Graeme bowed with mock chivalry. She smiled, flirtatiously, Graeme thought. She seemed about to speak, then suddenly turned and went inside.
Going to Tom. Lucky Tom. Graeme felt annoyed.
He remained irritable most of the afternoon: throughout Nella’s nap, during their ricksha ride and their walk through the open-air market. His testiness increased when he saw Tom and Chantal walking together. But he soon noticed that, although they were laughing, they did not exude the affectionate energy so remarkable when Tom was with Vivienne. Perhaps they had not yet slept together. Perhaps they were just pals. Graeme’s irritability dissolved. He led Nella to the cathedral, chatting jovially. She took his hand, smiling, and said, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

That night in the hotel room, Graeme lay awake. Outside insects sang. Graeme listened to them. He stared into the darkness, uncomfortable on the sagging bed with the mosquito netting about it. Beside him Nella stirred and called his name. “Sweet Koekie,” he answered. “Haven’t you slept yet?” He reached over and touched her hair.
“What are you thinking?” she asked. Her voice was heavy with slumber.
“You thinking of Tom and Chantal?”
“No,” he said. But he had been thinking of them. She had, too, he knew.
“What do you think they’re doing?”
He wanted to say, “Fucking, of course,” but he did not use rough language with Nella. Especially now that she was pregnant, so very pregnant. He listened to the crickets – or cicadas or whatever the hell they were – and finally said, “On the balcony this afternoon, I watched families having tea and cakes in the garden. Mixed couple families.”
“Whites and Bantus together?” she asked.
“Europeans and Malagasies,” he corrected. He felt annoyed. They had left the Republic, but she had brought its racial classifications with them. “The Malagasies came from the east. They’re Malays, not Bantus.”
“I may never get used to that,” she said. “They’re being together.”
“People do live that way,” he said. “They’ve lived that way here for decades.” And because her father always contended that mixed race children inherited the worst traits of both racial strains, he added, “And the children are beautiful.”
“I’m glad,” Nella said. “I’ve never thought the ones at home were. Shame.”
Graeme smiled grimly to himself. Her father’s daughter. Nella snuggled into his side. He lay still. The damn French with their beds, he thought. Damn mattress! Nella turned again, awkward in her seventh month. “You all right?” he asked. “The drive wasn’t too bumpy, was it?”
“Un-un.” Then: “You think Tom and Chantal are ‘doing it’?”
“Of course,” Graeme said, hating her school-girl expression. “They’re enjoying unspeakable perversions.”
“Do you wish we were?”
“I’m not sure we’d know one, even if we did it.”
Nella laughed and curled against him, feeling safe.
He listened to the damn cicadas and their buzz. And acknowledged to himself that there was a buzz inside him. Was he annoyed with her because she was pregnant? He hoped not.
“You’re incredibly beautiful the way you are now,” he said to reassure her. “But once the baby comes, I’ll be glad to get back to ‘having parties.'” The words sounded pompous to him, but Nella would not care. She wouldn’t even know.
“Tom’s really awfully nice,” she said at last. “For an American. Isn’t he?” A short silence. “She’s even rather nice. So cultured. Is Chantal a French name?”
“Her mother’s French. From Martinique or someplace. She studied at the Sorbonne.”
“She’s the Liberian Ambassador’s daughter?”
“Something like that.”
“Liberia– Isn’t that where the Americans sent their slaves? Don’t they speak English?”
“I think so,” Graeme said.
“A kind of English,” she said with a laugh. “Just like me. The vowels and consonants of English with the music of Afrikaans.” She yawned. Then she asked, “Isn’t Liberia where they’ve had that dreadful civil war?” Before he could answer, she went on, “Or is that Sierra Leone? Or Rwanda? Hard to keep it all straight.”
She was teasing him. But instead of smiling and touching her, he thought: That’s what you get for marrying an Afrikaner. He wondered if he would ever escape the self-justifying Afrikaner banter. Probably not. Afrikaners were a righteous crowd, especially when they were wrong. He would have to endure the we-were-right jesting all his life. Unless they left South Africa. Or unless he left Nella. Would that happen? Would he prove her father right? Or would the baby keep them together?
Nella settled into sleep, murmuring endearments in Afrikaans.
And now Graeme’s other nocturnal companion settled heavily upon him, like a weight on his chest. That companion was a near-desperation about the course of his life. He felt imprisoned. He had to leave South Africa; he had to get free. He would offer Madagascar pieces to the American newspapers for which he had done some Joburg stringing. That might lead to a reporter’s job on one of them. And that might lead to freedom.

Later Nella stirred, waking out of slumber. Once she sensed that Graeme was awake, she said: “Tom’s been divorced three times. That little boy in the bathroom photograph is his son. Funny, I…” Her voice trailed off.
“Marriage is not for everyone, sweet. He has tried.”
“I keep being surprised that he’s so thoughtful. He really is.” Then: “We never meet people like this at home.” She cuddled against him. “It’s good for us. Are you glad you brought me along?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” he said and kissed her shoulder.
“Do you always work this hard on trips?”
“Harder,” he said. “This is vacation, remember.”
“Ha! You’ve filed every day.” Then she asked, “Do you think Tom and Chantal had been together before we saw them at the market? They seemed shy with each other. Did you notice?” He said nothing. After a moment she asked, “Do you think Chantal’s pretty?”
“I suppose.” It was a trick question and must be handled carefully. So he elaborated in the language of apartheid. “For a Bantu,” he said.
“You think Tom’s fond of her?”
“Can’t you guess what Tom’s fond of?”
“It must be awful for you,” Nella said. “I know you miss it. It has been a long time.” Graeme said nothing. “You poor thing, lying here, thinking about them–”
“I’m not thinking about them. Go to sleep.”
“I’ll make it up to you.”
Graeme smiled in the darkness. Make it up? Nella would never surprise him with unspeakable perversions. “All right, silly,” he said. “Go to sleep.”
She curled beside him, trying now to fall asleep like an obedient six-year-old. He wondered: Was she learning anything? She seemed not to understand that he had brought her here for her education, that he wanted her capable of moving into the wider world beyond her homeland. She spent so much time sleeping! And
seemed content merely to be amused.
But even if she had refused to come here, he would not have let her stay alone. Now that blacks moved about unchallenged anywhere in the country the threat of crime was too great. And he would not let her go to her parents. Whenever she stayed with them, the Afrikaner mind-set reasserted its claims. It was bad enough that she was affected. Graeme did not want her father’s ideas seeping into her womb, and he did not want her parents to think the child was theirs.
Nella’s breathing grew regular: up and down, up and down. If he did land a job overseas, Graeme wondered, would Nella come with him? Would he dare go without her? Yes, he would. He wondered what Andries DeKock would think of Tom and Chantal. He would certainly take Graeme to task for exposing his daughter to mixed-race lovers. Old Andries hunkered down in his mental redoubt. Plagued with pigmentation obsession. The Madagascar trip would confirm his conviction that Graeme was subversive to his daughter’s morals. Graeme grinned in the darkness and saw himself escaping. He ripped through the mosquito net, leapt over the balcony and soared into the night.
But in fairness to Old Andries, Graeme had to admit that he was not certain what he himself thought of Tom and Chantal. True, they were different from people he and Nella met at home – and were stimulating for that reason. But, despite Tom’s hospitality, Graeme felt off balance with him. More like a specimen than a person. And he was even more unsure of himself with Chantal.
Chantal. Thinking of her, Graeme grew restless, caught inside the mosquito net. He crawled outside it and looked at his watch. He took a blanket and wrapping himself in it, listened to Nella. She breathed with heavy regularity. He opened the door and stepped onto the balcony.
The night air was cold. It smelled of pines. Graeme leaned against the railing, trying to clear his mind. He thought of nothing. After a while he glanced toward Tom’s and Chantal’s room. The windows were dark. They would be asleep, wound about each other. He pulled the blanket close about him.
“Hello,” a voice said softly.
Graeme did not move.
“Hello,” it said again.
Graeme felt a pang of nervousness. He peered into the darkness. Chantal was sitting on the chaise longue. He nerved himself and tiptoed to it. “Have you been there all this time?” he asked.
“Hmm-mmm.”
“You must be freezing.” He took the blanket off and gave it to her. “Why have you been sitting there?”
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
Had she spoken those words? Graeme could not believe it. He said nothing, hardly breathing.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said again. “Tom and I had an argument.” Then: “I arranged for us to have it.”
Graeme tightened his hold on the balcony railing.
“I felt you calling me.”
Graeme held his breath. He felt almost too nervous now to think.
“I’ve been calling you.”
Graeme rubbed his arms. “Is this like the exotic fortune?” he tried to ask lightly. “Something you tell all men?”
“I’m very good at fortunes,” Chantal said. She laughed in a way Graeme thought of as Bantu; he felt her pulling him closer as if by witchcraft. He took a step backwards.
“Don’t be frightened,” she said. “Let’s see. I’ll tell you something less scary.” She hesitated, pondering. “I know: eventually Tom, even Tom, gets tired. We didn’t argue. He fell asleep. So I came out for a smoke. Is that better?”
He stood, his hands on the railing, for what seemed a very long time.
“Don’t hold back, Graeme. You’re not at home.”
For the first time she spoke his name. He felt himself pulled toward her. He gripped the railing tighter, fearful that if he moved, he would leap across a brink.
“Don’t you want this?”
He closed his eyes. For a moment he held his breath. Then he reached out to touch her.
“Hello,” she said.
He fumbled in the darkness. “Where are you?” He laughed stealthily, nervously. She took his hand. “Thanks.” She pulled him beside her. His confidence returned. It’s going to be all right, he told himself.
Groping about, he wrapped the blanket around them. They kissed. She laughed welcomingly and bit his neck. At last his mind stopped working. Sensation filled him, like music. He moved with it, holding the African girl, and their bodies flowed together. He felt himself leap, truly over the brink now, and Chantal clung to him as Nella never had.
Finally he leaned away from her and laughed with relief. “God,” he said. He felt more satisfied physically than he ever had. His body ached lightly, pleasurably.
Somewhat later he thought of Nella, trustful, pregnant Nella. He suddenly felt overcome with guilt. What had he done? He withdrew his hand from Chantal’s skin, as if he were touching a whore. “Do you do this with anyone?” he asked.
“Don’t spoil it.”
“Do you?”
“I do it with men I like. Isn’t that natural?”
For a while Graeme said nothing, thinking of what Chantal had said, but also thinking of Nella. Sweet Nella, he said to himself; she’ll never suspect this. He felt safe and caressed the African girl again. He said, “You like me, do you?”
“Poor Graeme,” Chantal said. “You’re looking out at the world through a plate glass window. You want to come join us and you’re trying. I like that.” She paused. “You can’t know how flattering it’s been to watch you discover me as a person and as a woman. Tom could never pay me such compliments!” She took his hand and Graeme watched her press his white fingers against her dark cheek.
Later he woke from the cold. Chantal had gone. He lay on the chaise for a long time and at last tiptoed into the warm room. In the bed Nella was still lightly snoring. He regarded her fondly – his Nella – and did not feel as if he had betrayed her. He told himself that most South African men – probably even her father – had at one time or another had a Bantu girl. It was not a betrayal; it was a safety valve. It meant nothing.

He and Nella slept until 8:30. At breakfast Tom asked if they had spent a good night. Smiling vacantly, Nella said they had. Tom left to conduct some business. Chantal did not appear.
Nella napped most of the morning, a contented smile on her face. Graeme left her sleeping. He quietly closed the door and tiptoed across the hall. With blood pounding in his head he knocked at the door. Chantal’s voice called, “Entrez.” Graeme did not move. When she called a second time, he opened the door
and stepped inside. “Good morning,” he said.
“Hello, Graeme.” She was sitting in bed in a dressing gown eating petit dejeuner from a tray. She smiled at him. “Come in. I saved you a croissant.” She buttered the pastry and handed it to him. Graeme took it, thrilled, but nervous. “Do sit down.”
He took a chair. Not knowing what to say, he bit into the croissant. Chantal poured herself coffee. “Want some?” she asked, already pouring him a cup. Graeme took the cup, chewing on the croissant and feeling amazed at himself. Finally he said, “I hope your bed is better than ours. Ours sags in the middle.” It seemed almost traitorous for him to speak to this woman, his Bantu lover, of “our bed,” his and Nella’s, and yet he was doing this.
“This coffee smells of Paris,” she said, sniffing it.
“It tastes awful.”
“Yes, but it smells of Paris.” She smiled at him and he felt comfortable.
“Tell me about Paris,” he said. He kicked off his shoes and put his feet on the bottom of the bed.
She told him about Paris and West Africa and Martinique. As they talked, she left the bed, slipped through the plastic strips hanging at the bathroom entrance and ran water for a bath. Graeme put on his shoes. “Don’t go,” Chantal said. “Come talk.” Graeme hesitated, uncertain what to do. “I love to talk in the bath,” she said. She took his hand and led him into the bathroom. As he watched, she slipped out of her dressing gown. With the same unconsciousness of her nakedness as the woman in the hallway photo in Tom’s house, she stepped into the tub.
Graeme thought he must be inside some dream. Was this happening? Had he and Chantal really been together the night before? He sat on the floor beside the tub, talking to Chantal and thinking that at any moment he might wake up to find Nella sleeping beside him.
“There’s room enough for you,” Chantal finally said. “Want to come in?”
He shed his clothes, very conscious of his nakedness and the obviousness of his excitement. “Hmmm,” she said with a grin. He returned the smile, slipped into the water beside her and held her, clung to her.
Later they washed each other, Chantal bathing him like a mother, soaping and rinsing every inch of him. When they left the bath, he towelled her dry and kissed her when they finished. “I’m going back to bed,” she said, putting on a nightie. “Come tuck me in.”
In fact, he joined her in bed. He lay holding her for a long while, thinking with his skin, not with his mind. He felt strangely content merely to hold her.
When he went back across the hall, Nella was still asleep. He smiled at her tenderly. Above her mountainous body her face wore an expression of contentment. Graeme felt released and full of joy; he regarded his wife with profound affection. He loved her, he thought, almost more than he ever had.

Chantal did not appear at lunch. Graeme and Nella and Tom ate alone. After they finished, Chantal strolled onto the dining terrace, a bag slung a la Parisienne over her shoulder. She shook hands with all of them and, hardly speaking, drank some coffee.
Tom insisted on a siesta after lunch. He and Chantal arrived at the car twenty minutes later than the two couples had agreed to meet. Tom complained of a headache, so severe, he said, that he could not drive. He asked Graeme to chauffeur them back to Antananarivo. Nella smiled knowingly at Graeme as Tom and Chantal slid into the rear of the car. They had hardly left Antsirabe before Tom fell asleep, his white palm resting on Chantal’s brown thigh.
Back in the capital Graeme bade Chantal a warm goodbye. She gave him what seemed an encouraging smile and his heart leaped. He hoped to see her again.
But he found it impossible to contact her. It turned out that the Liberian Embassy had closed. Instead of returning to Monrovia, the ambassador had bought a trading company in Antananarivo. Graeme could think of no plausible way to trace Chantal through the company. He was a married man, after all.
Naturally, he lacked the courage to ask Tom for Chantal’s phone number. He did not want Tom to know what he was thinking. Nor Nella either. When they were together at his house, Graeme felt Tom watching him – as if waiting for him to make some move. He sometimes wondered if Tom had put Chantal up to widening his experience of life. As it worked out, he did not see her again.
Once Graeme was back in Johannesburg, he stayed busy covering developments in the new South Africa. Madagascar seemed a dream. Chantal became a figure who was never quite real. Memory transformed Antsirabe into a virtual reality interlude that never truly occurred.
When Nella went to hospital for the baby, Andries DeKock paid Graeme a visit. “Look, lad,” he said. “Fatherhood’s upon you. Time to give up this notion about America. Its racial problem is more entrenched than ours and there’s no will there to solve it. Here we’re coming to grips with the problem. There’s more opportunity here than you know.”
“I need overseas experience,” Graeme told him.
“They think highly of you at the Press Service,” DeKock assured Graeme. “You know the managing director’s an old friend of mine. Shall I speak to him?”
“Please, don’t! I’ve got to know if I can get ahead on my own.”
Once the baby arrived, Graeme felt a strange erosion of ambition. He became more content with his life. He chose to regard this condition as evidence of new maturity. Parenthood made him feel less constrained in his homeland, less hungry for freedom and experience.
Now and then something would remind him of Chantal. Yes, he would think, he had slept with an African woman. He felt more of a man for that and recognized that Chantal had contributed to his improved view of himself. Because of her he felt himself a better reporter, too. He always regarded the Madagascar pieces as some of his best writing, the most colorful and atmospheric.
His stories from the island produced appreciative letters from editors overseas. He followed up with inquiries about positions on their newspapers although, because of the baby, less quickly than he intended. He received an offer of a paid internship in Philadelphia and accepted it, but lost time sorting out the immigration procedures. Learning that he was serious about America, the Press Service offered Graeme an editorship.
Shortly afterwards Nella informed him that she was pregnant again. They had a long talk about their lives. Graeme agreed to accept the editorship. He knew Nella was right: it was time to settle down.

NEITHER MANN NOR MacINNESS

There are times, it seems, for reading light fiction. And times for reading serious fiction. And times for reading no fiction at all.
Donanne is having trouble just now getting through her third Helen MacInnes novel in about as many weeks. The other two gripped her. She came upon them at a time for reading light fiction.
The present one fails to involve her. At the moment she cannot concentrate on paper-doll amateur spies who fall in love as they elude danger on the north Adriatic coast. Just now is a very busy period. It is not a time for fiction.
Once I encountered similar problems with Thomas Mann. The experience shattered me because Mann was my favorite author.
This reading block descended upon me just at the end of that period in which almost every girl I dated felt an equivalent passion for Thomas Mann – or was encouraged to acquire one.
Lilot and I, for instance, enthused about the mysteries of “Tonio Kroger” over the spaghetti special near the offices where we worked in lower Manhattan.
In Georgetown steak houses Judy and I analyzed the subtleties of “Death in Venice,” the literary devices of “Buddenbrooks.” We probed them with an intellectualism much too fervid to nurture romance.
In the presence of young Joyan I exclaimed with delight at finding “Stories of Three Decades” in her father’s library. I instructed her to read “Disorder and Early Sorrow,” which she may even have done.
Arriving for a blind date with Carroll, I carried a new-bought copy of “Doctor Faustus.” She eyed me skeptically, heard my enthusiasm with raised eyebrows, and declared her preference for Herman Hesse. We never saw each other again.

It was no inconsequential event to find Thomas Mann a bore. I had to ask myself: Am I losing my intellectual grip?
i was living in the Congo at the time, in a town called Bukavu on the eastern frontier. The country was enduring the last pangs of rebellion. I had twice evacuated an apparently doomed provincial capital in the northwest. I had been transferred to Bukavu. It was quiet there, presumably a good place for reading. I looked forward to enjoying books I had always wanted to read.
Rebels had besieged the town only months before, provoking a frightened Congolese army to make the first stand of the conflict behind barricades raised across Bukavu’s main street.
Many of the townspeople panicked. Soldiers shucked off their uniforms and fled in their underwear into the bush. Africans ran away to their native villages. Europeans crossed Lake Kivu by night, taking refuge in safer Rwanda. The consulate staff camped at Rwanda’s Kamembe airport.
Street fighting trapped my predecessor in his office at the rear of the USIS Cultural Center. This led to a residential consolidation. Most of the American Consulate staff, all men without women, were then living at two houses on the lake edge, eating together and keeping watch, arguing heatedly at dinner about whether the Congolese or CIA officers were better able to solve the country’s problems, yelling at each other without provocation, baring our private concerns more openly than we ordinarily did.
The town was tense and the soldiers’ behavior unpredictable. One morning leaving the Consul’s house, where I lodged, I found a machine gun trained on the front door. From the Cultural Center’s window one afternoon I watched what seemed the whole town flee up the main street away from army headquarters. There Katangese soldiers with rifles surrounded the commander’s office demanding more pay.
We were restricted to the confines of the town. Rebels still operated in the countryside. A band of them had recently overtaken the vice-consul while he did reconnaissance some 60 miles into the bush. His passport was found in his jeep; he was presumed dead. Early the fourth morning after his disappearance he walked, very footsore, into the Consul’s house. He laughed with relief, immensely grateful to the Congolese guide whose loyalty he bought with promises of wealth.
Bukavu’s Europeans prized us for our connection to American resources. Anxious mothers sought us to marry their daughters and rescue them from the Congo’s uncertainty. Well-armed fathers obsessively distrusted us, bristling with menace whenever their daughters cast at us yearning glances.
Still, time hung on our hands. The long evenings dragged.
I started to read Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain.”

With consummate skill the novel evokes the life of an Alpine sanatorium. It possesses high seriousness. In some passages its characters spring to life; in others it skillfully dissects the propositions preoccupying pre-World War I philosophers.
Despite these values, it set me to yawning. Somehow there seemed much more reason for the sanatorium-bound to read about us than for us to read about them.
But with a doggedness born of boredom I slogged through every page. I trudged through that immense tome like one of the characters struggling through Alpine snow.
All I really remember – and this very vaguely – is that one evening Mann’s hero feels magnetically attracted to a woman met at a sanatorium party. But he never manages even to kiss her. This is the stuff of life, and Mann described it beautifully. I felt Hans Castorp’s every emotion. But…
But it was not a time for novels. Even the heightened experiences of fiction, I finally realized, were less intense than those I was living myself.
This, I suspect, is why the magic has flown from Helen MacInnes. When Donanne was awaiting the baby, light spy fiction lightened the waiting’s discontent. Now that the baby has come, the adventures of real life underline fiction’s artifice.
I came upon them this afternoon during little Pauly’s “waketime.” In this his seventh day of life he was lying upon the vast plain of our king-size bed, well-bundled and wide-eyed, staring at his mother. She was staring back.
“We’re holding hands,” she said. She showed me his tiny hand clasped around her little finger. She smiled at me. Then stared back at him with an absorption that neither Mann nor MacInnes will ever win from readers.

TARZAN LIVES

In the mornings we would clunk down the back stairs into the warm kitchen, my twin brother Bob and I. Tootie, our mother, would be at the stove stirring Cream of Wheat and Dad would be sitting at the drop-leaf breakfast table reading the morning paper.
We would scrunch down on the linoleum floor next to the dog’s box, ask for and receive the paper’s second section and hastily turn to the entertainment pages. We would scan the movie ads, hoping, hoping…
No more than once a year were our longings fulfilled. But how happy those once-a-year mornings! Joy exploded inside us. Our spirits soared for weeks.
“Tarzan’s New York Adventure,” the advertisement would announce. “Starring Johnny Weismuller, Maureen O’Sullivan and Johnny Sheffield as Boy,”
And so it had come at last: the new Tarzan movie! We had known it was on its way, for we kept abreast of such things. Where other kids read comics, we read movie magazines: Movie Story, Photoplay, and others whose names I have forgotten.
We read them at the magazine stand in the Thrifty Drug Store at Cochran and Wilshire: two kids sitting Indian fashion, avidly thumbing through the latest stock before a salesgirl spotted us and wondered if this time for once there would be a sale in it for Thrifty. Eventually she would decide not and come over and tell us to push on.
Because of this reading we would know that “Tarzan’s New York Adventure” (or whatever) had finished production and was coming out soon. We’d begin to watch for ads in the paper. Then, when they came: Ahhh!!! Something to look forward to! Something to give the Cream of Wheat an extra touch of flavor!
After breakfast we would toss on our leather jackets, fasten our schoolbooks on the carrying racks, jump onto our bicycles, and exhilaratedly pedal the three miles to school. We’d sit back, riding no-handed, and talk giddily about the ad that had finally appeared.
While growing up, Bob and I suffered deprivation. Movies were rationed to us. At first we could go no oftener than once a month. One day – it was the day school got out one summer – Ronnie Rice’s mother said that to celebrate she would take Ronnie and Bob and me to see a cowboy movie in Hollywood. What a heartbreaking invitation! We had already seen our movie for that month.
About the time we were ten, we were allowed to go to the movies once a week. We would save the money earned from our chores and from our job emptying garbage cans at an apartment house a couple of blocks away and spend it on Saturday afternoon movies.
Sometimes the money just wasn’t there. Once – Tommy Treanor had come over and my parents were gone – I had to seek out a sympathetic neighbor lady. I rang her doorbell. Then when she answered it, I said: “Hi. To get down to brass tacks, I need some money to go to the show.” She provided the amount needed.
Bob could not go to the movies that week – he was being punished – and mocked my “brass tacks” line, a phrase I thought very adult. So Tommy and I went off by ourselves to a chilling movie called “Kiss of Death.” We huddled beneath a shared windbreaker and watched Richard Widmark commit sundry heinous crimes before Victor Mature got him in the end. Unquestionably it was an afternoon well worth a little begging.
We often spent much of the week speculating on the choice facing us Saturday afternoon. Would it be Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara in “The Black Swan” at the La Brea or a rerun of Abbott and Costello”s “It Ain’t Hay” at the cheaper El Rey?
Before we turned twelve and entered the price category of juniors, we got into the El Rey for only eleven cents. And what kid wouldn’t pay that to see something like Gary Cooper hanging by his thumbs from the rigging of a vessel – even if it was an old movie?
For a while the La Brea ran a serial. It faded out each week with a cowboy hero tied to a bedstead in a burning building, or lashed to railroad tracks, or dangling over a precipice. When we felt no clear preference about the feature, the serial lured us to the La Brea.
I wonder how many Saturday afternoons we spent in darkened movie theaters, squunched down in our seats, munching Baffle Bars and impassively observing dramatic situations: Ray Milland walking streets in “the Lost Weekend,” Anthony Quinn getting it in the back in “Quadalcanal Diary,” Sabu facing tigers in “The Jungle Book,” Jon Hall saving Maria Montez in “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” We sweated out Corregidor with Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, and Sonny Tufts in “So Proudly We Hail.” We chewed our thumbnails during “Union Pacific” as Joel McCrea wondered whether or not to finish off Barbara Stanwyck with a pistol to prevent Indians from subjecting her to tortures unspeakable in their depravity.
Tarzan was the greatest of them all. While other characters writhed with torturous problems, Tarzan was simply himself: the noble savage. He swam magnificently, rode elephants, ran around on trees without holding on, conversed fluently with Cheeta.
He had no romantic problems. That was a relief. Bob yelled, “Ick!” – quite loudly – when in “To Have and to Hold” Joseph Cotton kissed Deanna Durbin before they had ever met. Tootie told him to leave the theater. Both of us snickered at the romantic entanglements of Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in “Anchors Aweigh.” That time Dad told us to hush or got outside. It was during the war and the sailors in front of us, he pointed out, had come to see exactly what we thought so icky.
Tarzan didn’t bore you with stuff like that. He fought crocodiles under water and always won. He lived in a neat tree house and dispatched the villains without a lot of mooning over Jane. And was there ever anything more beautiful than a long shot of him swinging through the trees, screaming “Ahhhh-eee-ahhhh!”
We had a big sycamore in the front yard then and Bob and I filled it with ropes, rope ladders, and a tree house. I used to lounge on the platform-tree house, walk barefoot along one of the branches, and swing down from the tree yelling, “Ahhhh-eee-ahhhh!”
More than once I hoped a movie scout would discover me. After all, Johnny Sheffield couldn’t play Boy forever. And Lana Turner who as far as I knew could not walk barefoot on tree branches or swing on ropes, had been discovered sipping a soda in a drugstore.
But if Sol Lesser’s talent scout ever drove down Masselin Avenue looking into the branches of its sycamores for a new a Boy, he must have come by when I was in school.
It’s been a long time since I read movie magazines seated cross-legged at the Thrifty Drugstore. In the interim I have lived in Africa. My part of it had vast plains. There were few trees and no noble savages swinging through or dwelling in them.
Still, for me, Tarzan lives. He lives – in my memory.

LEAVING BOLOLO

LEAVING BOLOLO is the third of three linked stories. The first story is titled BOLOLO; the second id titled MY WEDDING DAY. They precede LEAVING BOLOLO on this blogsite.

When George Templeton and I came out of the guesthouse with our duffels, dawn was just creeping into the sky. Rain had fallen heavily for an hour after I returned to bed, but the clouds had scattered and were clearing. We had tea and toast while CAM Africans loaded the rear of the Ford Explorer with gear and packages to be delivered to Mondombe. Dave Roberts shook our hands on his way to the surgery; he was operating even on his wedding day. I half-expected to see Elizabeth, but she hadn’t appeared by the time we crept out of Bololo Station.
We encountered potholes in the road almost immediately. George took the first turn at the wheel. I was still tired from my long swim in the river, but it was impossible to sleep. Potholes were hard to distinguish in the dawn half-light. Once we hit a few of them, I scanned the road as intently as George did, pointing out trouble spots if I thought he hadn’t seen them.
We made slow progress, passing occasional villages. The country was hilly and we drove up and down, up and down. The rain had stopped hours before; in many places rushing water had cut gullies two to four inches deep across the surface of the road. At the bottom of the each descent, we encountered crude bridges over streams; they were merely a series of logs laid the same direction as the road. George worried about the vehicle slipping off the logs into the streambed and about the condition of the logs themselves. I regularly left my seat to test the logs, walking ahead of the vehicle. I signaled it forward when I sensed the bridge could hold its weight.
We did not arrive at Mondombe until after dark. Instead of being greeted the way we had been at Bololo, everyone making a festive fuss about the presence of George, the Central African Mission’s great benefactor, the mood was gloomy and depressed. Virtually all the missionaries were assembled in the living room of the home of Dr. Ronald Roberts, the older brother of Bololo’s Dr. Dave. They crowded around the radio. Some sat on the floor, others stood with grave expressions on their faces.
Dr. Ron shook our hands quietly and steered us into the kitchen. His once-pretty wife, her gray hair pulled back in a bun, her glasses askew where she had been wiping tears from her eyes, dished tuna casserole onto plates and handed them to us. Before we could thank her, she turned her back to us, overcome by tears. She moved into the pantry where shelves were stacked heavy with cans of tuna and vegetables. From the living room came the crackle of voices on the radio. As she stood in the pantry, her back to us, I felt her listening to those voices.
“There’s coffee here if you’d like some,” Ron Roberts said distractedly. He gestured to a tall thermos and some mugs. “All kinds of confusion over at Bololo,” he added. “One of the girls is missing.”
George and I glanced at one another.
The missionary looked at us oddly. “You were just over there, weren’t you?” he said, as if only then realizing where we’d come from. “Maybe you met her. Elizabeth Jenkins. My brother was supposed to marry her today.”
“She’s missing?” George asked, incredulous.
“People saw her at dawn–”
“We left about dawn,” I said.
“She was around then,” the doctor said, ”but when she was supposed to be getting dressed for the wedding, no one could find her. Lucas and Ruthie looked everywhere for her. Thought maybe she’d turn up at the church. She’s an independent-minded gal, mature for her age. That’s why she’d make a good wife for Dave, despite the age difference.” The wife emerged from the pantry, studiedly looking at the floor. She pushed past us and hurried into the living room. Ron Roberts ran a hand through his hair. “But she wasn’t at the church. She’s vanished.”
Neither George nor I said a word. I had arrived at Mondombe feeling famished, but now my hunger disappeared in the same way that Elizabeth Jenkins evidently had. I put my plate on the counter and poured myself some coffee.
“There’s two things could’ve happened,” Ron Roberts went on. “Local chief over there could’ve had her kidnapped. He wanted Elizabeth for his son and Lucas Jenkins wouldn’t hear of it. But I don’t think that’s it. He’s always supported our work and Dave patched him up one time after he’d had an accident.”
“Have they talked to him?” I asked.
“Yes. To him. And his daughter who’s a pal of Elizabeth. They say they have no idea what happened to her. Dave thinks they don’t. Lucas Jenkins isn’t so sure, but that’s what you’d expect of him.”
“Could she have run away?” George asked. “She was pretty young to marry.”
“Where’d she go?” Ron Roberts asked. “She didn’t take any clothes. Didn’t take any money, not that she had much. Didn’t leave a note.”
There was a silence. For some reason I knew what was going to fill it. I took up my plate again and forced the tuna casserole into my mouth.
“The other possibility is–” Again the silence. It created a hollowness in me. Finally he spoke the words: “Cannibals got her.”
George put down his plate. I did the same. It would have been a sacrilege to touch food while these words hung in the air. Once more the silence. It slowly faded. I again became conscious of the crackling voices from the radio in the living room.
“These things happen,” Ron Roberts said.
“But how?” George asked, his voice a croak, a whisper of astonishment. I glanced at him. He was appalled, but inclined to believe. I was not. Nothing was ever said about cannibalism in Kenya and I thought it was missionary juju. I turned away from them.
“Savagery’s making a comeback out here,” Ron Roberts explained to George. “This is one of the most savage places on earth. Read a little history. Read what the first explorers found when they came here.”
“Read what the first explorers did when they came here,” I interjected. “King Leopold and the Belgians. This place was worse than Auschwitz and Buchenwald.” George turned to me, dismayed by my sudden vehemence.
Roberts regarded me patronizingly as if I were an ignorant anti-missionary liberal that hospitality required him to tolerate. “You’re in denial, friend,” he told me.
“Bullshit,” I said.
“Stay calm,” George advised. “I know it’s hard to believe.”
“We’re tiny spots of light in this huge benighted jungle,” Roberts informed George. “We made progress for a while. But since that kleptomaniac Mobutu took power, all our gains have disappeared. Savagery’s on the rise. Believe me. Our Africans know it; they don’t much care. That’s how bad the paralysis is.” George nodded and we were silent a moment. Roberts shook his head. “If it turns out Elizabeth was taken by cannibals–” His voice faded on the air. “Well, I don’t know what the next step is.”
I could stand neither this talk nor the improbable thought of Elizabeth dead. I went outside. Everyone on the station seemed to be either in the Roberts’ living room or standing outside it. Africans stood there, crowding at the edge of the verandah in bewildered groups holding flashlights or kerosene lanterns.
I hurried away from the house, feeling alone, grateful that I was less interesting to the Africans than what was going on in the house. I went down to the river that flowed below the station. I stripped off my clothes and walked into the quiet and welcoming coolness of the water. Once I washed the day away and cleansed myself of talk of cannibalism, I felt sane again.
The night was very warm. The water soothed me. As I swam on my back, my feet kicking easily, my hands working lightly at my sides, I watched the thousands of stars. I felt almost as if I were floating among them. Eventually people began to leave the Roberts house. I saw their feet lighted by lantern glow and flashlight beams.
I left the water, moved to the pile of my clothes and wiped the river water off with my hands. As I reached for my undershorts, I heard someone call my name. I looked around and through the darkness saw a figure moving toward me. “Olecko,” the voice said. It was Elizabeth.
Standing there, clad only in the night, I felt a profound relief that she was here and okay. We embraced, holding each other tightly. When I looked at her for an explanation, she said only, “I couldn’t marry Doctor Dave.”
We embraced again and kissed fumblingly, awkwardly – she had not been kissed much – our bodies pressed together. Lolling in the water I could not believe that she had been carried off, but the thought of that possibility made me wish I had obliged her the previous night when she came to my bed. Now my body was responding to her presence, her warm nearness. I released her. I turned away. I did not want her, the mission station virgin, to notice my arousal. I shucked on my jeans, slipped into my sandals and picked up the rest of my clothes in my arms.
“How did you get here?” I asked.
She grinned. “In the Ford Explorer.”
“With George and me?”
She nodded and gave a laugh that she immediately stifled, putting her hand to her mouth. “No one can know.”
“Someone at Bololo must know,” I said.
She gave me an impish smile. “I came to say goodbye to you,” she explained. “I saw you talking to Dave.” She took my hand in the darkness. “I knew that if I married him I would never see you again. Or anyone like you.”
I felt apprehensive. Had she done this for me?
“Or ever have my own life.” She shrugged. “So I jumped into the back of the vehicle and crawled under the tarpaulin. When Ndeki came with your duffels I showed myself. I swore him to silence. He packed the gear around me so that I would be okay.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m stiff,” she admitted. “And I’m famished.”
“People are very worried about you. They think cannibals got you.”
“Well, they didn’t,” she said. “Do you have anything I could eat?”
I went up to the station guesthouse where George and I were staying. I found my duffel in the room where I would sleep, removed two Power Bars from my gear and returned with them to the place where she was waiting at the river.
“There must be Africans who know you’re here,” I said. She nodded. “They won’t reveal you’re here?”
“They always know more than they tell,” she replied.
“Where are you going to sleep?”
“Can I come to your room?”
We agreed that she would come after the station generators cut off. I would leave the doors open for her and hope that George would be asleep. The driving had been long and hard; George had done most of it. I knew he was tired.
When I returned to the guesthouse, George was reading a Bible in the living room. He glanced at me, then read aloud. “‘Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.’” He put the book down. “I know this disturbs you.” I nodded. “Me, too.”
I waited on the narrow single bed under the mosquito net. I wore my jeans because Elizabeth would share the bed with me; sleeping outside the mosqutio net was not an option. George began to snore. I could hear the ebb and flow of his breathing and felt certain Elizabeth could hear it, too, all the way to the river. The room was so hot that at last I pulled off my jeans and wore only my shorts. I fell asleep before Elizabeth came.
As she crawled beneath the mosquito net, I woke. “I couldn’t tell if it was you snoring or George,” she said. She snuggled down beside me, wearing only underpants.
We lay side by side. I kept my arms above my head, seeking to elongate myself, trying not to touch her. But the bed was too narrow for us to lie side by side in it without touching. For a time she lay completely still, her hands folded atop her breastbone. When I glanced down at her, her lips were moving. “I was saying prayers,” she told me. She turned beside me. She had small breasts, but they touched my rib cage and burned there. She kissed my shoulder. “Thank you for rescuing me,” she said.
We lay awake for a long time. I wondered if she knew that in the larger world beyond the island the missionaries had created men found the sight and feel of women’s breasts arousing. When I finally slept, I did so fitfully for I feared that I would turn toward her while asleep, wrap my arms about her and not be responsible for what happened.
Before dawn I supervised reloading the Ford Explorer and did my best to make sure Elizabeth was comfortable on the floor beneath the tarpaulin. Once we got on the road, headed for Kisangani, George drove without speaking. We were both waking up. He stopped at bridges. I got out to inspect them, waved him forward, and returned to my seat beside him. This happened without a word passing between us. Finally he mentioned our discussion of cannibalism with Ron Roberts and I realized he was miffed with me for challenging our host. “Those people have bought into a myth,” I said, defending myself. “I can guarantee you that Elizabeth Jenkins was not captured by cannibals.”
“How would you know?” he asked.

Finally I said, “Here’s a metaphysical conundrum for you. If you are told by missionaries that cannibals exist and snatch children and young adults, but the only evidence you have of them is the missionaries’ belief in them– Well, do they really exist?”
He was silent for a long time. Then he said, “You don’t believe it.”
I shook my head.
“Then what happened to Elizabeth?” he asked.
I ignored the question. “For some reason we are willing to believe that Africans are capable of unspeakable depravity,” I said. “Whites come into this country. They’re hungry for raw rubber and ivory and they murder and enslave the populace to get it. Lop off men’s hands. Starve them. Put them in stockades. Eat them every way except factually – and yet somehow it is still the Africans who are thought to be so depraved that they feed on their own kind.”
Neither of us spoke for a long while. At last George said, “I want to get out of this country.”
“This benighted country,” I said. “The heart of darkness. Which is reverting to savagery at the speed of light.”
“You don’t believe it?” George asked.
“I don’t know what to believe. Except that it’s a contention that very conveniently feeds the martyr complex of missionaries. Who are well-intentioned – even truly good – people. They just cannot believe that doing things any way but their way could possibly be okay.”
When we stopped for lunch at the side of the road, we had not encountered a single vehicle. George set the cooler on the hood of the vehicle; someone at Mondombe had made sandwiches for us. I opened the rear of the Explorer, pulled our luggage from it and set it on the road. When I rolled back the tarpaulin, Elizabeth stared at me with frightened eyes. “It’s all right,” I said. I helped her onto the road.
When George saw her, he almost overturned the sandwich cooler.
“Not eaten,” I said.
“Hasn’t eaten,” Elizabeth corrected. “I’m starved.”
George laughed with relief and handed her a sandwich. “Did you plot this together?” he asked me.
“No.” I said. “I was as surprised as you.”
He listened without comment to Elizabeth’s account of why she was with us. He nodded when she explained that she could not spend her life having babies and making meals for a man – however good he was, however important the work he did – whom she did not know. Her decision to flee had been sudden, but it was irrevocable. She implored, “Please don’t send me back.”
“You better eat,” was all George said. He spoke hardly at all the rest of the day.
We spent the night drawn into the yard of a derelict building with half its corrugated iron roof pulled off. George and I took turns sitting guard in the Explorer. When half a dozen warriors carrying hunting nets discovered us and drew near shortly before dawn, I honked the horn. They jumped, whirling as one man, and raced off into the gloom.
We reached Kisangani late the next afternoon and stayed three days waiting for George to set up a plane to Nairobi. It was clear that Elizabeth had not been in a real town in a very long time. She looked at everything with her intelligent and eager curiosity, but she also held onto my wrist or hand wherever we went, wanting to make sure that she never got separated from me. George got us top floor rooms in the best hotel, one for him, and because she would not stay alone, one for Elizabeth and me. He told me, “You be with her. Keep her out of sight. And don’t take any liberties.”
The way people stared at Elizabeth, we realized reports were circulating of a missing girl fitting her description. When George contacted the local CAM missionaries, they wanted to know all about the girl who had vanished. Was it really cannibalism?
So while he arranged our Nairobi flight and made the pay-offs necessary to get proper documents for Elizabeth, I tended her – babysat her really. She was like a precocious child. Questions popped into her head about the most improbable things: What became of refuse when you flushed a toilet? How did vending machines work? Why were buildings built so tall? Did they often fall down? When I assured her they did not, she became intrigued by elevators; it seemed magical to her that she could enter a room on one floor and leave it on another. She wanted to see everything in the town, but, of course, was forbidden to do so. So she spent hours gazing from the balcony of our room, asking questions about everything she did not understand. If she was partly a child, she was also partly a woman, one with intelligence and a quick sense of humor.
She announced that she wanted to be called Liz. She was leaving Elizabeth behind. I realized that without knowing it she had been readying herself to leave Bololo for some time. I liked being with her. I sometimes wondered if I were attracted to her. I decided that it was merely a matter of our being thrown together.
Without consulting George, our second night in Kisangani, I took her out of the hotel for a walk around town. And a little shopping. We got her new underwear, a pair of shorts and a top and something that would serve as a nightie. I was disappointed in the quality of the merchandise, but she could not keep wearing the same set of clothes. She had no idea what money was worth, but her mission background convinced her that everything was too expensive. If people looked at us suspiciously as we walked, I put my arm around her shoulders; she wrapped her arm around my waist. The missing white girl would probably have been reported taken by Africans. We passed as European tourists.
The walk exhilarated her. Back at the hotel we sprayed ourselves against mosquitoes and went onto the balcony to watch the street life down below. After a moment she went back inside. Left alone, I wondered: What on earth is George going to do with her in Kenya? He was antsy about his wife discovering that he had become involved with a teenage mission girl. But getting her out of Kenya would be as complicated as getting her out of the Congo. When she came back outside, she was wearing her new clothes. She was fairly purring. “I feel like a new woman,” she said. “Now I’m really Liz.”
Back inside, we got ready for the night. It was warm in the room. In the bathroom she changed into the light nightie we had bought. While she was there, I changed into new boxers, got into bed and turned off the light. She left the bathroom and sat down on my bed. She asked, “Aren’t you going to kiss me goodnight?”
“I’m already asleep,” I said.
“You fat liar. My parents always kissed me goodnight.”
“I’m not your parents.”
“I can’t get to sleep unless someone kisses me goodnight.”
“Bullshit.”
“What does ‘bullshit’ mean?” She giggled.
“It means I’m not kissing you goodnight.”
“You think I’m ugly, don’t you?”
“I’m not playing this game.”
“I don’t know how to kiss and I want to know.”
This was undoubtedly true. Liz would want to know how.
“Puh-leeze,” she said exaggeratedly. “When Dr. Dave kissed me goodnight. I knew we both needed lessons. If he’d known how to kiss me, I’d have stayed. I’d be in bed with him right now, kissing him.”
I turned my back and faced the other way. I heard some rustling. She came around to the other side of the bed. She giggled. Then:
“Now will you kiss me?” she asked.
I looked up. She was naked. In the ambience of the room, from the dimness of the streetlights down below, I had no trouble seeing her. She looked very womanly, very tempting. Her breasts were larger than I had thought. I did not want to deal with this, especially since George would consider this taking liberties.
“Put that thing back on and I’ll kiss you.”
“A real kiss?”
“A real one. Put it back on.”
“You’re no fun.”
“Back on.”
She did a little dance around the bed and flirtatiously put the nightie back on. Truth be known, I was disappointed. I sat up in bed, took her by the shoulders so that I was not embracing her and gave her a real kiss.
“Wow!” she said. “That’s not at all how Dave does it.”
“That’s how I do it. Now go to bed.”
We both lay awake for a while. Finally I heard her regular breathing. I thought, If this keeps up, my resolve will falter. In fact, I wondered if my saying no was really the best thing to do. Here was a young woman, old enough for marriage by African standards, who had a lot of catching up to do. I would not have thought that sex was the best place to start. But if she wanted to start there, once we took her to Kenya what would happen to her? Maybe caring sex was something she should have a taste of. That’s sophistry, but it made an awful lot of sense just then.
The next day we played three games of Scrabble. We told each other our life stories. Since these tended to be boring – I admitted to only one girlfriend – I embellished accounts of my travels in Europe with fanciful episodes of international intrigue and lurid crime. We had a room service dinner of cheese sandwiches and bananas, played a game of checkers and then took another nocturnal walk.
When we returned, it was almost midnight. We got into our nightclothes. I kissed her again, a tepid “real kiss.” We got into our separate queen-size beds. We turned out the light and waited for sleep.
She said, “I want to be called Liz.” I made no reply. Finally she said, “Well?”
“Goodnight, Liz.”
“Elizabeth was all right for Bololo. My mother’s name for me.” She was silent for a moment, then added, “But now that I’m a new person, I want to be Liz.”
“Goodnight, Liz.”
We said no more. I had dozed off; then I felt the bed move. Elizabeth – excuse me, Liz – had slipped into bed beside me. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“What’s it like sleeping with another person?”
“No idea. I’ve only had one girlfriend. Remember?”
“Bullshit.”
“What language! Where did you learn that?”
She said nothing for a long spell. Finally she moved over and snuggled beside me. I reviewed my thoughts of the previous night that maybe learning about this was the best thing for her development. Bullshit, I told myself.
“Liz would like to be kissed,” she said.
I said nothing, did nothing.
“Are you having trouble with IT?” she asked. I made no reply. “I know men need IT to stay on an even keel.”
“Who told you that?”
“I know that for men IT is like a force of nature they can’t control.”
“Who fed you this bunkum?”
She nestled beside me and I realized she was naked.
“Does that bother you?” she asked.
“Liz wants to know about more than kisses, doesn’t she?”
“I know this is like one of the terrible African rainstorms. Isn’t it?” She giggled and placed a hand on my chest. “The wind starts howling: ooo-ooo!” She made an ooo-ing sound. “Palm fronds blow away.” She waved her hand above my face. “The first drops come, lightly on the roof.” She skittered her fingertips lightly across my chest, back and forth, then in a circle that grew bigger and bigger. I took her hand before the raindrops got intimate. “Then they pound and pound and pound. Is that what it’s like for you?”
I kissed her.
“Mmm! Liz likes that.”
I kissed her more slowly, more deeply.
“Mmm!”
I crouched beside her and kissed her body.
“Mmm!” She wrapped her arms around me.
“You’re too young for this,” I said.
“Bullshit!”
I laughed and got out of the bed.
“Don’t go! Please!”
I shucked off my shorts, got a condom and returned to bed. We became lovers.
I was as gentle and unhurried as I could manage. When it was over, she said, “That hurt.” I held her and told her to sleep. We woke as the first light was stretching across the sky. She said, “Let’s do it again. Maybe it won’t hurt so much in the daylight.”
When I told George that liberties had occurred, he gazed at me, severely disappointed. I asked, “What happens to her when we get to Nairobi?”
“I’ve been wondering,” he said. “I’m sure I can get her a passport.”
“Can you take her to the States?”
He shook his head. His wife who had stayed watching animals would be with him. They could not appear to be trying to slip a young woman out of Africa against her parents’ will. “Can she stay in Kenya?” he asked. “Can you look after her?”
“I’m a school teacher,” I said.
“Can you get her into the school?” he asked. “I’ll take care of the expenses.”
Once we got to Nairobi – and before his wife flew in – George succeeded in securing Elizabeth an American passport. The deputy headmaster assured me that an exception could be made; she could enroll in the school where I taught. When the Templetons left, Mrs. Templeton assuming that Elizabeth was the daughter of American expatriates in Kenya, everything seemed to have been worked out.
The next week, however, the Kikuyu headmaster overruled the decision of his Kalenjin deputy. In what seemed a matter of tribal one-up-manship, I was informed that Elizabeth could enroll only if she were my wife. In which case, of course, she would be living with me. When I explained this to Elizabeth, she burst into tears. She was still very dependent on me; she refused to go into Nairobi streets alone. “I should have obeyed my parents,” she cried. I shook my head. “Well, will you marry me then?” she asked.
I went to the Kenya Marriage Registry office. I ingratiated myself to a clerk, gave him one hundred dollars American and received in return a certificate affirming that Elizabeth and I were man and wife. But were we married? It was one of those metaphysical conundrums. I tried to explain it to Liz. “We are not married,” I told her, showing her the certificate. “This paper says we are. But we aren’t really.”
She nodded, looking at me with huge eyes.
“But we love each other,” she said. “We do love each other, don’t we?”
I assured her we did. “But it isn’t the kind of love married people feel.”
“Let’s say vows,” she suggested.
I stalled. I did not want to exchange vows. “We’ll have to think about the kind of vows we’d make.”
That night when we were in bed together, holding one another, she said, “I love you, Nate. I always will. That’s my vow.”
“I will not let you make that vow at seventeen,” I said.
“Then what kind of vow can I make? Will you make a vow?”
“I vow,” I said, “always to be your friend. To love you as a friend.” Sensing that she might cry, I began to laugh. “And,” I added, “I will take care of you until you finish high school.”
She repeated this vow and we kissed and made love. “We are getting better at this,” she said. “I understand why Mutimba thinks about it so much.”
“Do you think about it a lot?” I asked.
“Hmm,” she replied drowsily. “Do you?”
Elizabeth completed her third year of high school in Nanyuki. She lived with me as my wife. When my teaching contract was not renewed, we returned to the States with George Templeton’s help. He found me a job in Newport Beach and we established residency so that when Elizabeth finished high school the following year – as she did – she would qualify for a resident’s admission to the University of California system. I repeatedly suggested that she tell her parents where she was living – cheaply in Costa Mesa – but while she was still in high school, she refused. When she won admission to UC San Diego, she rented a post office box, informed her parents that she was alive and suggested they write her there.
Although she was “married” in high school, she went off to UCSD as a single woman. We agreed that she must have a life independent of me. No one at the university was to know that the law had ever considered her married. Or that she might have considered herself married. I stayed nearby so that she would not feel abandoned. I was less than an hour away if she needed me.
Our being apart seemed right to me. A mentor should not be sleeping with the woman he mentors. A young person coming of age should not keep trying to please the person who has parented her.
She is now in her fourth year at UCSD. She expects to graduate in June. I am back in Kenya, teaching at a secondary school in Nairobi. George Templeton has promised Elizabeth a trip to Africa when she graduates: to Kenya to see me, to Congo to see her parents who write to her that Kabila’s takeover of the country has speeded the reversion to savagery. Cannibalism is once more on the rise.
Elizabeth writes me she has had boyfriends; she even lived with one man for a while. She knows there is a Kenyan woman whom I see. She writes that she loves me, in fact has always loved me since the night she came to my room in the guesthouse at Bololo. She claims that when she is with other men there is always a withholding. The withholding is about me. She cannot give herself fully, she says, to any other man.
Her letters perplex me. How can she love me? Isn’t it just a matter of my having romantically imprinted on her at a moment of emotional susceptibility?
Yet strangely I, too, feel toward her an emotional– Connection? Attachment? Commitment? I’m not sure what. Is it possible that I love her? When I met her, I was a man. She had just turned seventeen, a mission kid. And yet… There is also a withholding in me. When I am with women, Elizabeth is always there, too. Can this be love? Perhaps we’ll find out when she comes to visit in June.

MY WEDDING DAY

MY WEDDING DAY is the second of three linked stories. The first story, titled BOLOLO, precedes this story. The third story, titled LEAVING BOLOLO, follows this one.

On my wedding day I was up before dawn. I gathered things I was taking to my new home and put them in a box. As I started toward the door, Ruthie came out of the bathroom. She said, “Put that down and give me a hug.” She held me very tight, saying goodbye to the teenage mission girl daughter she had never expected to be marrying so soon.
“You come back in plenty of time to take a sponge bath.” No bathing in the Tshuapa on my wedding day! “You want to be nice and fresh for the wedding – and for afterwards.”
I nodded and kissed her, took the box and headed two doors down to the Roberts house where at the end of the day I would be mistress of the manor. Going down there I stopped to take stock: to listen to the mission station stillness; to smell the cool, fresh air so gentle on my skin in those few comfortable minutes of darkness before light broke across the sky; to gaze across the Tshuapa gentling along in its eternal way.
I also said goodbye to being a girl with dreams of flying away from this place that had shaped me. I bid farewell to notions of meeting new people and achieving amazing things in the wider world I’d only read about. I had made my peace with living here for years to come and achieving what I could as the wife of Dave Roberts, recent widower, a man I did not yet know, but would expect at some point to love.
At the Roberts house I climbed the steps and went inside. Dave was there. I was still having trouble thinking of the man I was marrying as Dave, not Dr. Dave, the station fixture, a kind of uncle. Coming out of the kitchen, carrying a cup of instant coffee, he seemed surprised to see me. “Morning, Ja—“ he said. Then realized, of course, that I wasn’t Janie, his wife who’d died. He substituted, “Morning, Sweets.” I’d heard him call Janie that any number of times.
It was his wedding day, too, but I realized that he was thinking of the surgery he was about to perform. He starts surgery at sunup to catch the cool of the day. He hadn’t focused yet on getting remarried at 11:00 that morning. He looked at me a little strangely as if trying to remember who I was. He leaned over and kissed my mouth so briefly it seemed done before it started, a curious way to kiss your bride on the day you were marrying her.
He handed me the coffee cup, momentarily confused, realizing Janie wasn’t away on a visit, but dead in childbirth and that I was moving in, his future wife. Starting down the path, he turned back and called, “Guess I’ll be seeing you later.” He gave me a shy grin. I felt the blood rushing to my face about later. My husband by noon.
Watching him go, I put out of my mind what had happened the night before. I had resolved to make the best marriage I could with Dave, even if he was twice my age and I hardly knew him.
Janie had died less than a month before. Only twenty-nine and almost a sister to me. Dr. Dave, I mean Dave, was about forty. She was expecting their third child. When Ruthie told me the news that Janie and her baby were gone, I went hollow inside. Death had never before rubbed my nose in what it was. I walked around the station for several days in a kind of shock-trance.
It had been a period of suddenly growing up. My school year ended at Pakima Station. I escaped Dangerous Dakin Dobbins from Ikela who kept pestering me with attentions that were sometimes
exciting, but more often icky. I came home to Bololo. I turned seventeen. Then Janie died. Ruthie and I took the kids, feeling that someone must break the news. Ruthie told them, “Your mother and the baby have gone to be with Jesus.” I couldn’t say those words.
We had supper the next night or so at the Dentons along with Dr. Dave and his kids. That was the first time I understood that Janie’s death meant that Dave would have to return to the States. The mission board had a rule: no unmarried male missionaries on its stations. Women, yes, and there were plenty of them. Men, no. The board was certain that single male missionaries would chase Congolese women with the same relentlessness that Dangerous Dakin pestered us girls at Pakima. So Dave and the kids had to leave.
Dakin Dobbins came back from home visit in Des Moines, Iowa, boasting that he’d “done It” with a high school girl. She’d taught him everything. Maybe she had.
If you let him, he kissed you. He also put his hands in your shirt. He wanted to show me all about “It.” “It” even sounded tempting, despite the warnings I’d had and the rules I was supposed to respect. If Dakin had been handsome, “It” might have happened. But I was sure I could do better
Mutimba said “It” was wonderful. She was my best friend; I’d gone to school with her up to sixth grade. Her father negotiated well for bridewealth and saw that she married, not an older man who wanted a third wife, but a promising young man who brought him the necessary goats. She already had two babies. She brought them to see me, proud of herself, letting me know she was a real woman.
A day or two after that supper at the Dentons my father got one of his brainstorms. Tension hung over the house. He paced a lot. Finally we had a talk. When Ruthie brought tea out, I knew this was serious.
“Sweetie,” he began, “there are few times when we can do things that are really meaningful with our lives.” Where this was going? That’s what I wondered. “You know why we’re out here. In this benighted part of the world, the ‘heart of darkness,’ as some say. We’re here to give people less fortunate than ourselves a chance for a better life.”
I nodded.
‘Dave Roberts gives them a better life in terms of physical health. I give them a better life in terms of spiritual health. We don’t have a lot of the things people back in the States think are important. But at the end of each day we know that we’ve advanced a good work. We don’t ask ourselves questions like a lot of those fancy people in the States do: ‘What does my life mean? Why am I in this rat race?’ Do you understand what I’m talking about?”
“I think so,” I said. I knew that he meant every word. I admired him for it. But I also knew that we were here to escape the kind of American competition that would leave him behind.
“Do you want me to do something?” I asked.
“It’s your choice, of course. I’m just laying it out for you.” I knew he wanted very much for me to do whatever it was.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “Dave Roberts, a good man, dedicated to sacrificing for other people, has been felled by some very bad luck. Janie’s died. He has two kids who need a better break in life than they’re going to get back in the States. He needs a wife.” He continued, “Those of us living at Bololo need a doctor here. If Dave goes, there goes our medical insurance policy.”
I blurted, “You want me to marry him?” Lucas was so surprised that his mouth dropped open. I said, “I’ve just turned seventeen. I don’t know anything about being a wife.”
“You’ve been doing a great job mothering those kids. If that family goes back to Illinois, who’ll take care of them?”
“But I hardly know Dr. Dave,” I said. “Why would he want to marry me?”
“He’s a wonderful guy,” Lucas insisted. “He’d take it slowly.”
“I’ve got to get some air,” I cried and fled outside. I ran down beside the Tshuapa, too confused to think.
That evening in the bathroom I stood in my bathrobe and looked at my body in the mirror, wondering what Dr. Dave might think of it. Ruthie came in and saw what I was doing. “You’re beautiful,” she said.
“Am not,” I replied. ‘And I don’t know anything about men.”
“You know what they look like.” That was true. “You know what happens when they get excited.”
I said, “I can’t imagine that anything about this body would excite Dr. Dave. All the bodies he’s seen.”
“You’d be surprised,” Ruthie countered.
“I don’t ever want to get married,” I told her. “I want to finish high school and college and get a job in New York or Washington.” I also wanted to get off Bololo Station.
“Don’t worry your head about marrying Dave Roberts,” Ruthie assured me. “Consider that another of your father’s crazy ideas.”
For the next day or two I thought about my marrying Dave Roberts, flattered that my father thought I was ready to be a woman, a wife. It turned my head. Being realistic, I also doubted I could cope with a place like New York. Sometimes in towns near us I felt disoriented.
Lucas finally raised the subject of marriage again. “There are a lot of romantic notions floating around out there,” he observed. “But if they were true, do you think fifty percent of marriages in America would end in divorce? Real marriage is about two people living together, working for the same purposes. That couple gradually grows into one person. That takes years. When it happens, it’s love, a happy marriage.” After a moment he asked, “You ever think about marriage?”
I had been wondering if marrying Dr. Dave was what I was supposed to do. The successful marriages I knew were where the partners seemed to be a good fit. They helped and sustained each other. Was I supposed to do that with Dr. Dave? He needed a wife and a mother for his kids. Maybe that was my role in life.
Lucas said, “You might ask yourself what your prospects down the line really are. If you go back to the States and your mother and I stay out here, where will you be in five years? Ten years?” I said nothing. “Will you be married to a guy who doesn’t understand where you come from? Doesn’t understand serving others? Or things bigger than yourself? That could mean divorce. Single motherhood.”
I realized that was true: a mission girl would be a curiosity in America. Would I be happy there? After we finished talking, I took a walk. Dr. Dave rather scared me, but he was a good man. He would treat me well. The fit between us was unusual, but it made sense.
Moreover, there was a lot of divorce in the States. I knew my Dad could not cut it there. Could I? I’d always been happy at Bololo. I thought I wanted other things for myself, but I might not achieve them. If I did, they might not make me happy. I admired my parents making sacrifices for the betterment of other people. I finally decided I was willing to sacrifice for Dr. Dave and his children. I thought marrying him would make me a better person. I would put behind me what I had been attracted to in guys like Dangerous Dakin Dobbins.
When I told Lucas I would marry Dr. Dave, he walked me right over to the surgery. He knocked at the door. A nurse answered. “As soon as the doctor’s free,” he said. Dr. Dave came out right away.
Before Lucas said anything, Dave looked at me with incredible tenderness. Suddenly I felt that maybe I could like him. In five years I might– He smelled of disinfectant. He took my hands in his. “I will work to make sure you never regret this,” he said.
Tears sprang to my eyes. I expected him to kiss me, but he didn’t. He grinned at Lucas and said, “I better get back. I’ve got patients.”
Lucas and Dave decided we should be married within a week. Mutimba came to the house with her babies and assured me that we would be mothers together. I was to get pregnant as soon as possible.
Twice in the succeeding days Ruthie counseled me, “Elizabeth darling, you don’t have to do this. You’re so young.” But I felt exalted by what was happening to me.
“Plenty of women have gotten married younger than me,” I told her. I’d made my decision.

On a station like Bololo every day seemed pretty much the same. But not the day Dr. Dave and I were to be presented to the Bololo community. I spent that day with Dr. Dave’s kids, Tyler and Mamie, getting acclimated to the job of being their new mother. I knew Dave wanted to replace the child Janie had been carrying. I tried to imagine becoming pregnant in maybe no more than a month and delivering a child before I turned eighteen. Gee! Then I would spend the next twenty years raising children and sending them out into the world when I was still shy of forty. Then what would I do? Try to figure out who I was? Would I love Dave who was by them an old man, almost sixty? Or want to leave him?
Another event of that day was the arrival of visitors from outside our world. A mission benefactor was giving Bololo the plane they arrived in. With him was a young man. Together they would drive back across the jungle in a mission vehicle they would leave with our people in Kisangani. These visitors – and Mr. Templeton’s gift – would be honored at the same social being given for Dave and me.
I got the kids up on our porch to watch the plane come in, landing on the strip between our houses and the Tshuapa. When the plane came to rest, the men climbed out of the cockpit, George Templeton, first, then the other man, young, fairly tall, an easy presence. He waved to us. I waved back. He smiled and climbed down off the wing. Was he good-looking? Yes. I suddenly realized I’d really never seen a white man like him, only guys like Dakin and men the age of my father and Dr. Dave.
That afternoon when I took Ty and Mamie to the little beach we have on the Tshuapa, one of the Congolese said a mondeli was swimming in the river. I found a towel laid out on the beach with sandals and a tee shirt.
As we were getting settled, the mondeli came wading out of the river toward us. When I realized who he was, the visitor, my whole body tingled in a way I’d never felt before. He walked up to us, sparkling in the sun as water dripped off him, moving with grace and self-confidence. Books might have called him a young god. I watched him, a little mesmerized. He smiled. I smiled back. I had never seen a man like him, yummy, beautiful in a Speedo that covered but did not hide his masculinity. He was muscled, but lean, sturdy shoulders, legs that went hiking, a young man, the kind of man I would never know.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m Nate. We saw each other when I came in.” We flirted a bit. I realized he found me attractive. I assumed he hadn’t been swimming with a white girl in a long time.
He kidded me, saying I did a nice job filling my bathing suit. We both laughed at that. It had to be teasing because I was wearing a missionary get-up out of the Esther Williams era. “If I wore a bikini,” I said, “I’d get run off this station.” Then I added, “You better not let my Dad see you in that Speedo.”
When it came time for the kids’ naps, Nate walked us back to the Roberts house. He suggested that maybe we could have coffee together somewhere. Suddenly I knew he wanted to kiss me. And I wanted him to. I knew this even without having done much kissing.
He suggested that I give him a tour of Bololo. I hesitated – here you don’t meet a young god every day – but I was engaged to be married in two days. I knew that tongues would wag if people saw me walking around with him. I told him there was a social that night in the Assembly Hall. “To celebrate the new plane,” I said. “Will you come?”
“I’ll look for you,” he told me. Again I felt his wanting to kiss me. I stuck out my hand and we shook.

That evening I felt Nate’s eyes on me. I liked that feeling.
When they called me to come stand beside Dr. Dave as his bride-to-be, I felt awkward in front of Nate. I stood off a bit from Dave. He took my elbow and pulled me toward him. People cheered. I felt so gangly I had to look at the floor.
Later I helped pass out cake. Nate waited till most people had theirs, then eventually he came up. “Congratulations,” he said. “I guess I won’t have a chance to show you around Kenya.”
“Are you coming to the wedding?” I asked. “It’s day after tomorrow.”
“I think George and I leave that morning. Wish I could. I’d like to kiss the bride.”
Of course, I blushed. Goon! I hoped he couldn’t guess how much I wanted that. “Enjoy the cake,” I said and turned to someone else.
I saw him the next morning, bringing tea to him and Mr. Templeton in the station guesthouse. He was standing outside in his boxer shorts after bathing in the river. I called to him the Lonkundo greeting, ”Olecko,” told him how to answer, and gave him the tea. “Maybe after breakfast I can give you a tour of Bololo and show you Dave’s surgery.”
Later when we walked around Bololo, chatting easily, Nate looked at me differently than Dave did. He really saw me. As a woman. With Dave sometimes it was like I wasn’t even there.
Nate showed me the plane. He boosted me onto the wing, his hands on my ribs. When he held me, I had the oddest idea about “Fit.” While I was convinced that my fit with Dave made sense, I could not help feeling that the fit with Nate was much more natural. But this was the wrong time to think about that. I inspected the cockpit.
That evening after supper the Bololo missionaries gathered to watch Lucas rehearse the wedding ceremony with Dave and me. It was another social. There were refreshments and the radio net was activated linking all the Central African Mission stations along the Tshuapa.
After Lucas finished, somebody yelled, “He’s gonna kiss her now.” People laughed. I stiffened. Dave and I had not yet done much kissing. I wanted Dave to look at me and really see me, then kiss me sweetly and a little lengthily showing he wanted this marriage to work. But his kiss was just a peck. I suppose he was embarrassed.
Suddenly I wondered how Nate would have kissed me. Then someone sang out over the radio net, “Did he give her a good one? Is she gonna want more where that came from?” Honestly! I thought: “Take me away from here. I can’t spend my entire life with these people!”
Dave’s kids and I passed out Kool-Aid. People were hugging me. wishing me well, and I hoped Nate would come up. He’d been watching me. I felt the weight of his eyes on me. Mr. Templeton gave me a kiss, one with more feeling behind it than Dave gave me. Nate stood back, watching me. Finally he clasped his hands together, raised them over his head, and left without looking back. I felt rejected by the world beyond Bololo.
Dave and I walked back to my house, holding hands. We talked, but not easily, about the social, and I truly wondered if we would have things to say to one another in the years of our marriage. When he left me at the porch, he turned me toward him. He leaned forward and gave me a shy man’s kiss.
But I wanted a real kiss! He was marrying me the next day. He was going to show me how a lover made his wife happy. I didn’t want a shy man doing that! “Somebody’s gonna need kissing lessons,” I said to him.
He looked surprised. “Maybe we can start tomorrow.”
I reached up, took the sides of his head in my hands, the way Dakin kept trying to do, and gave him the best kiss I knew. He pulled back, a little surprised. “We can start right now,” I said.
“I’ll show you more tomorrow,” he promised. Then he kissed me solidly.
Inside the house Ruthie and Lucas had a little goodbye ceremony. Sweet of them. When Ruthie was cleaning up in the kitchen, I went to talk with her. I needed to tell someone that I was having doubts. Earlier I had felt I was supposed to be with Dave Roberts; now I felt I was supposed to be with Nate Kennett. When I looked at her, the words wouldn’t come out. I must have seemed scared. Ruthie smiled reassuringly.
“Feeling a little nervous?” she asked. “Most brides do. You’re standing on the threshold of a new life, wondering—“
“If this is the right thing,” I said, finishing her thought.
“You know who’s not wondering that,” Ruthie answered. “Those two kids. They’re so pleased that you’re going to be their Mom. And Dave is so grateful to you. Don’t think there’s no passion there because there is. He’ll show you that.”
So what was I to say? The whole Central African Mission was counting on this wedding. My mother had made my dress and washed and ironed it that very day. I got tears in my eyes. I could not tell her why I was crying. She assured me, “It’s all going to be fine.”
When I went to bed, I couldn’t get to sleep. I kept thinking about making love. And wondering why Nate didn’t kiss me. The night before I married Dave, I was thinking about Nate.
Finally I realized I would never get to sleep unless– Unless– Unless– Could I? If I didn’t, I would never know. I got out of bed. I listened for regular breathing coming from my parents’ room and slipped outside. I saw no one. I hoped no one saw me.
I hurried to the guesthouse. I tiptoed inside. I turned the handle of Nate’s room. I stepped inside. Finally I moved to the bed. Slowly, slowly, I pulled the mosquito net from under the mattress. I slid inside and tucked it in again. I sensed that he was awake. I told myself he’d been waiting for me. “Olecko,” I whispered. He did not move, but I knew he was awake. “Olecko,” I whispered again.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
He was wearing only boxers. I was in a long cotton missionary nightgown. Having walked across the station, my night vision was good. He sat up and I could see that he was excited under those shorts. He crossed his arms before him to hide the evidence. “What’re you doing here?” he asked.
When I reached out to touch his face, a tingle went through my body. “Why didn’t you say goodbye? You were supposed to kiss the bride.”
“I was afraid to kiss you,” he finally admitted.
“Why were you afraid?”
“Because I wanted to give you a real kiss.”
“Kiss me the way you wanted to. Right now.” I rose up on my knees. I yanked the nightgown from under me and pulled it entirely off. I was now naked except for panties. “Show me how to do this,” I begged him. I crawled toward him. “I don’t even know Dr. Dave. I want you to be the first man to do this with me.”
He looked at me. I knew he wanted me. “We’re supposed to be together,” I said.
He nodded across the darkness. “I feel that, too,” he said. He reached out. He touched my breast. Passion surged through me. We looked at each other. I crawled closer. My blood pounded: Take me! I knew he wanted me. Take me!
But he shook his head. He held me away from him. “In five years you’re going to love him,” he said. “If we do anything, you’ll regret it.”
Oh, please! Please help me. It isn’t easy to come here.
He gazed at me across the darkness. “You’ll feel guilty all your life. You can’t want that. In five years you’ll love him.” Suddenly he wrenched the mosquito net from under the mattress and slithered outside. I saw how excited he was. But he was running away.
I knew he wouldn’t come back. An honorable man. Just my luck. I put the nightgown back on and went outside.
“Have a good life,” he said and offered his hand.
“Kiss me. Please kiss the bride.”
He leaned forward, his body well away from me, and kissed me lightly on the mouth. “I hope you’ll be very happy.”
I was still holding his hand. I didn’t want to loose it. Finally I started back toward home. My emotions were running awry. I felt on fire. I knew he wanted me. I wanted him. When I got back to our house, I had to cool down. I went to the river. I threw off the nightgown and walked into the water. Despite the mosquitoes, I stayed there until I was sane again. Sane meant doing what everyone expected me to do. And I made up my mind to do it.

The next day, my wedding day, I was up before dawn. I greeted my mother and went over to the house I was moving into. Dave was there. He kissed me, uncertain who I was. Then he went off to his surgery, to the work so important to Bololo Station.
Once he was gone, I sat in the living room. Across it was a photo of him with Janie and the kids; he had sent it to his parents in Florida. Next year there would be a photo of him and me and maybe three kids now, the man a little older and the woman younger than the one there the year before. At almost forty, Dave had had a wife, had kids, had a profession that required thought and reading. I realized that I would be in his house as a provider of meals, as a caregiver to his kids, as the body in his bed when the sex-hunger was on him. That would be my life.
Nate Kennett wanted to know who I was, what I thought, where I wanted to go. He saw me. Could hardly take his eyes off me. His gaze had weight I could feel. Dr. Dave kissed me good morning without knowing who I was. In the presence of missionaries Nate Kennett hadn’t dared to kiss me because I was so real to him. Last night he hadn’t dared to make love to me, not, as he said, because I would regret it in five years when, maybe, I’d grown to love Dave. No! He couldn’t because he wanted it so badly. When he did kiss me, his hands on my shoulders, he held me away from his body so that I would not feel how big he was in wanting me.
There was danger with Nate. I liked the danger, liked that men were different from women. Would there ever be danger with Dave? When he made love to me, would I feel that his pounding into me pushed us to a place we’d never been, that in passion I would embrace the danger, that it would make me lose my sense of individual being to become one with him? No. That might happen with Nate Kennett. Maybe that was why he wouldn’t touch me. Because the danger of our being united was so strong we’d never get over it.
Sitting there, I wondered: Could I really marry Dave Roberts? The night before I had decided I would. But could I really live my life on this tiny stretch of Africa and never see more of the world? Yes, I could. I would.
But not without first saying goodbye to the life I would never know. I had to embrace Nate Kennett. In the days ahead when I got depressed being stuck at Bololo. I would remember that hug and feel him against me.
I heard the Congolese nanny waking the children. I slipped away, down the steps of the porch. I hurried across the station, the same route I’d taken the night before. I drew close to the guesthouse. It was still dark. Dawn was just breaking. I recognized Nate standing outside, eating a little breakfast, talking to Mr. Templeton and Carl Denton. I wanted to see him alone.
I tiptoed over to where the Land Cruiser was parked. The back of the vehicle was up. Ndeki who had been in the early school grades with me, a pal, was bringing gear that the men would transfer to Mondombe Station. I whispered, “Olecko” and we chatted a moment. He moved off to get more packages. I saw that he had already loaded some. A tarpaulin was spread over them.
Suddenly I moved without thought, in a trance. I had been in a trance for a while after Janie died, the first person I had known well who went to the other side. Now Nate Kennett was going to die. I crawled into the rear of the Land Cruiser. I undid the tarp and wrestled it over my body. When Ndeki returned, we looked at each other. His eyes grew enormous.
“Rafiki Ndeki,” I said, “don’t ever tell anyone I did this.”
He just stared at me, not knowing what to say, what to do.
“Ndeki,” someone called. It was Carl Denton. “We almost loaded? Our guests need to get off.”
“Ndio, Bwana,” he replied. He began to fill the back of the vehicle with duffels and packages. He leaned over to be sure I had air and was as comfortable as possible.
“How’re we doing?” Mr. Templeton said. He came to check the trunk. “Thanks so much– Ndeki, is it?”
“Yes, sir.”
I heard the men say goodbye to Carl Denton. I recognized Nate Kennett’s voice. My heart beat faster. I thought: What am I doing? But I suppressed that thought. I had wondered about danger with Dave Roberts and decided there would be none. I was making my own danger. Would I ever have a chance to tell Ruthie and Lucas how this had happened? And why? What would they think had become of me? I knew Nate would take care of me. The man who was too principled to take me last night would be too principled to let me founder in Nairobi.
The men got into the Land Cruiser. The motor flared. I felt a rumbling beneath me. The vehicle began to move. We were gone.
And so began my wedding day.

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