Long Pants Under a Hot Sun

A novel about Africa, drinking and the meaning of life

Haven’t You Fallen in Love Yet?

In this chapter, Dublin and Curran have a long dialogue about Lyle Lovett, Africa, and love.

 —

Haven’t You Fallen in Love Yet?

The two boys walked out onto the balcony looking over campus.

“How’d you find me?” Curran asked.

“I knew you were at Legon. I got a ride into Accra and walked around until I found someone who knew where you lived.”

“Wow. I never thought you’d find me.” Dublin bit his lip. “What’s Togo like?”

“From what I’ve seen of Ghana, it’s a little nicer than Togo. You have an overpass on the highway. We don’t even have pavement. You know, boys hang out on the highway and shovel in potholes with dirt that won’t last a rain. Travel isn’t fun.”

“Have you gotten any rain?”

“Huh-uh. It’s killing me. I didn’t know it just didn’t rain at all for a few months.”

“Joint?” Curran offered.

“Sure. So, I thought you were coming last week.”

“Yeah, I thought so, too. There’s trouble getting a visa, and I don’t know really how to get over there yet.” He reached into a bag.

“Well, there should be a taxi station downtown that goes to Lomé. I think you just have to ask. Have you seen much of Accra?”

“No, I’ve been hanging around the campus mostly. Going to class. There’s a bar here, you know, and locals making food all over the place. I want to get out, though.” He licked the paper and sealed it.

“You got any music?”

“Yeah.” Curran walked over to a little boom box and put in a tape.

“What’s this?”

“Lyle Lovett. You like it?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“You’ll love it. Listen to it.” They did. “He got his heart broken, you know, and he decides to get a boat and ride a horse around on it. Perfect.”

“He’s going to ride a pony on the boat?”

“Yep.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“Huh. I guess I’d do that too if I got my heart broken.”

“You would now.”

“Well, seriously, what do you think so far?” Dublin asked.

“About Africa?” A nod. “It’s not what I expected. I thought people would be quieter. Maybe more…reverent. I don’t know. There’s a lot more going on here than I thought. I mean, it seems like there’s a lot of food. And people are happy. Have you noticed that? Everybody is smiling all the time. Except old people. They look kind of disappointed in everything around them. They watch me without talking. But I don’t see a lot of them. I guess I like it here. I need to get out more, though. I know there’s a million things to see, and I feel like a month’s already gone by and I haven’t seen much. We’re in Africa, you know? We have to see it. Everything changes, and the Africa we see now won’t be the one we see in twenty years when we come back.”

“You’re coming back?”

“Sure, someday. Aren’t you?”

“I don’t know. I kind of figured I would get done here what I need to get done this time.”

“Haven’t you fallen in love yet?”

“What? With what?”

“With this! With Africa. With the women and the men and the children. With plantains and termites and mosquitoes and clothing with color! Don’t you feel like you could live here forever?”

“No. I don’t know. No.”

“Here.” Curran handed him the joint he’d forgotten to pass until now. Half of it was ash in the air, blown away by the evening wind that had begun to cool.

“Thanks. No, I see what you mean. I’ve had some crazy experiences here. It’s like every day is a story, like a chapter in a book. Some of it is just strange, some of it is just living everyday and the normal things and activities of life, some of it is truly an unforgettable experience. I can see what you’re saying, but I don’t think it has anything to do with loving it. What about the stuff that pisses you off?”

“Oh, hell yeah. I get pissed all the time. But we’re living on a different planet here. It’s amazing; it’s music and it’s drum bam tookie, food and fried banana, sucking sour oranges, color bam and petrol smell and baobab trees in your face, collecting all the wind and throwing it back out at you, rusted cars, kids with guns drinking beer, you know? The way they sing when they talk, the history, slaves, tribes, the shit they cut into their faces. It’s the biggest, prettiest package I’ve ever gotten.” They were both high now.

“Wow. Yeah, I get you. You gotten any letters from home?”

“Actually, yeah, I got a letter today. My girlfriend sent me a letter and a tape she made for me.

“A mix tape?”

“Yep.”

“What’s on it?”

“Songs about breaking up.”

“Oh. You think she wants to break up?”

“No. I think she wants me to know that she knows that I think about breaking up.”

“I thought you two were great, always together, in love. Something up?”

“Part of it’s being here and being away from her and not really missing her enough. Part of it started before.” He took a hit. “Part of it’s just thinking I know everything and thinking I want something else.” He blew it out.

“It’s not that complex, is it? You’re either in love or you’re not. If you’re wondering if you’re in love, you’re not. You’re either in love or you just think you are.”

“Haven’t you fallen in love yet?”

“Of course. I’m in love with someone right now.”

“How do you know?”

“You just know. I think about her a lot, even here. I don’t get sick of her.”

“So if you did get sick of her, you wouldn’t be in love?”

“Right.”

“Even if you had really strong feelings for her sometimes?”

“Right.”

“You haven’t been in love.”

“Yes, I have.”

“Then you don’t understand it.”

“I do too. We can build huge structures in love, tall towers of meaning and speculation and feeling and knowing, but it’s all surplus. Sell it to the man in camouflage. You’re either in love or you’re not. Simply, my man. I mean simple.”

“Nope. You don’t know. You’ve thought about love, but you haven’t been in it long enough.”

“Bullshit.”

“How long is your longest relationship?”

Dublin scowled at Curran. “Six weeks.”

“I bet it’ll still be six weeks in six years with an attitude like that.”

“I’m hungry.” Dublin stood up.

“Hey, don’t get mad.”

“Let’s go.”

Advertisements

A Few Lines That Made Me Laugh

This time, instead of posting another excerpt from the book, I’m going back in time. It’s the end of the year, and it feels like a good time to go through old things. For example…a page of plot sketches I wrote in 2004 for my second book. That book is currently 1 page long. So, clearly, I take my time with things.

I love finding something I wrote years ago, especially when it’s not completely awful. That’s the best. And I found a few lines that made me laugh out loud:

  • Trying to figure out God is like unloading the dishwasher: no matter how many times you do it, you’ll need to do it again.
  • I think I’ve figured out so much about life that someday I’m going to write a book about everything I know. (That line made me laugh out loud because I probably meant it, which is really funny because I know less now than I did then. Should be a short book.)
  • This year I’m going to make my resolutions around the fourth or so, after everyone else’s have been broken.
  • I just got home from a New Year’s party at Brendan’s, and I have a new table to put my keys on when I walk on the door. (Okay, that is about the saddest thing I’ve read in a while. Really? You left a New Year’s Eve party and you’re talking about putting your keys on the table? Sounds like you had a blast.)
  • I hate my job so much that I get going in the morning, devour my coffee and show up on time everyday just so I can deal with it. Work is predictable and ugly, so I know I won’t have too good a time there. Keeps me going.
  • I grew up Catholic, but intelligent.

So…when was the last time you went through old things? Writing, a journal, photographs…when was the last time you held an old photograph? Who was it a picture of? It’s time to get the self-reflection out of the way so we can move on to better things.

dishwasher

A Knock at the Door

Something to read for a short break from family time…unless you need a nap from all the turkey. And wine.

—–

In this chapter, Dublin looks for his friend as dusk falls.

 

A Knock at the Door

Dublin looked east and west upon the road they’d come down. He looked north, and the buildings in that direction seemed to be full of classrooms. They had that look about them. He spun slowly to the south. There was a giant building in front of him, with a wide, open foyer. Within he saw an information desk placed between walls of dorm room mailboxes. What luck, he thought, getting dropped off right where he needed to be. It was like fiction.

Supposedly a place to get information

He approached the information desk and waited behind two girls comparing identification cards. Dusk fell around him, and he began to worry about searching for Curran’s room in the dark. The campus looked beautiful in the daylight, but what about after sundown? Who knew what kind of criminal elements could lurk about, preying on white, clueless student tourists? He should have read up a little on Ghana before coming over. Now he was at the whim of the information desk lady, a woman of great power and knowledge. He could go nowhere without her. His destiny seemed to be fully in the grasp of a woman with an inordinate patience for the idiot standing in front of her. He couldn’t find his classroom, and she explained to him that arts classes were in the arts building. He was finding it hard to understand. Artists.

He looked to his right and saw a glass display case with a map of the campus displayed inside. A large blue “X” marked the information desk, and just behind it was a building labeled “International Housing.” He glanced back at the information lady once more before slipping away quietly.

A verdant quadrangle opened up on the other side of the foyer. Dusk was working the campus into a gray lather, but Dublin made out the dormitory to the left. It had faded blue shutters and painted iron railings bolted into concrete walls. A wide balcony ran the length of the building on the second floor. Leaning over the edge stood a man holding a coil of fire hose.

“Hey there! Night is coming!” Dublin looked up at the man and nodded, not knowing what else to do. He kept walking with his head down.

“Hey, man! I say it’s getting dark!”

Dublin looked up. “Yes, it’s getting darker.” He stopped. They stared at each other. “Now what?”

“Find your place!”

“Why, is it dangerous here after dark?”

“No, but it is difficult to find something if you can’t see it!”

“Oh. Well, yes, I suppose so. Tell me, do you know where the Americans stay?”

“They stay here. Go to the staircase. Walk up the stairs. There will be Americans all over the place. You can smell them.” He wrapped the fire hose around his left arm. Dublin started towards the staircase some fifty feet away. “Those are the stairs. Smell them before it gets too dark!” He walked away, the metal spout of the hose clanging against the concrete.

“Crazies,” Dublin muttered. “Crazies everywhere on this crazy continent. Yes, I suppose it is hard to see in the dark. What the hell is that all about?” He started up the stairs and tripped on the second step. Gravel stuck to the palms of his hands.

Conversation in east coast accents greeted Dublin at the top of the stairs. Several students in gray T-shirts sat on the floor playing cards. Each of them held a burning joint, and the smoke got in his eyes. The smell of dope was thick in the air. I smell them, Dublin laughed to himself. They looked up and ignored him.

“Any of you know Curran?”

“Yep. Last door straight ahead.”

Dublin waited a moment before picking his way through jacks and aces and spires of beer bottles.

“By the way, where you coming from?”

Dublin turned around. “Togo.”

“Oh.” The game went on. Again he waited a moment. Nothing. Strange, high Americans.

“Where are you from?” Dublin asked.

“Pittsburgh.”

“Oh, it sounded like you were from the east coast.”

“That is the east coast.”

“Not really, is it?”

“Yeah, really.” The guy looked squarely at Dublin, squinting through marijuana smoke.

“I thought it was by Ohio.” The six of them stared at Dublin without a word. “Well, thanks.” He turned around and got his feet moving.

The last door on the second floor led to a room jutting out over the quad. Dublin looked for a name on the door, any kind of indication that he was in the right place. A blink of orange glanced off the rooftops on campus. Dublin knocked. Across the quad, “Time Out” in neon letters caught his eye. He saw another sign that looked familiar, but it was too dim to see.

There were rustling noises in the room, a wooden box closing and bare feet on the floor. The head of a white man with a light brown afro and weeks of beard growth pressed up against the screen door, smashing the tip of a joint.

“No way!” the face said, peering at Dublin. “No way!”

“Hey, Curran.”

“I can’t believe you got here!”

“I’m here.”

“Welcome to Ghana! Come in!” He held the door open. Just then, the last bit of light left the sky, and Dublin walked into a room lit warmly by candle light. “You did well, Dublin.”

Dublin nodded. Mostly to himself.

Under the Great Blue Arch

In this chapter, Dublin hitchhikes to Ghana with the Marines to find his friend.

Looking back on the road to Accra


Under the Great Blue Arch

Dublin trotted down the hallway of his house to answer the door. On the other side, Jared the Marine stood with his back to the house, his hands in his pockets. Dublin showed him inside, and the two of them carried Dublin’s bags to the Chevy Suburban growling in the street.

“I haven’t been in this one before,” Dublin said, pulling the back door shut behind him.

“Hell no you haven’t! The boss is out of the country, so we get the bulletproof.”

“Really?” Dublin looked around the truck in fascination, as if he could see the difference in the steel.

“Yep. Four days. That’s why we’re heading to Accra. Get a little nightlife in, some nice beaches, and all the women we can fit in the hotel room. Do you need to stay with us or what?”

“No, probably not. I hope not. I’m trying to find my friend at the university. Hopefully I can stay in his dorm.”

“Well, you’re welcome to. If you don’t mind a bunch of drunks trying to get women naked and gambling all night long.”

“No, I don’t.”

After Curran hadn’t shown up a couple days before, Dublin had decided to go look for him. The Marines mentioned their vacation and enthusiastically invited him along.

He hadn’t gotten very far with the meaning of life, but he was making friends.

That’s a journey.

Palms waved hello as the truck made good speed down the highway. The embassy driver, Matthew, drove as fast as he dared over and around potholes and road kill. Dublin craved the winds of the ocean around his head, but the windows wouldn’t roll down. Jared forbid anyone to run the air conditioning because he didn’t want to stop for gas. The others debated hotly about the effects of air conditioning on gas mileage.

On the road to Accra, Jerry Rawlings’ government had just finished construction on a highway overpass. Citizens saw it as a symbol of Ghana’s success, much to the annoyance of Eyadema. There was talk of closing the border, an effort to shut out not only the Togolese rebels that sought amnesty in Ghana in election off years, but to shut out Ghana’s culture from Togo. The reality of Ghana’s influence on dissension against its neighbor was undoubtedly exaggerated, but the tension was there. Dublin had stuck his fingers into the bullet holes in the side of his house. That was proof enough.

Dublin was facing backwards. He had a unique vantage point to watch boys filling potholes and shepherds ushering their stock along the side of the road. Just outside the city limits, Dublin watched with fascination as first one, and then dozens of bonfires plummeted into view. They burned darkly, unattended. He felt like he was on the approach to a post-apocalyptic city, a forgotten reporter for a war that raged on only within its own waste. He took notes that would never be read.

Matthew turned them north, skirting the city on a curved bypass highway that led to the University of Legon. Again Dublin wished for open windows as the smells of soldiers and heat grew more dense in the truck. He tried to pass the time by wondering if everything would work out the way he hoped, that he would be able to find Curran at home and be welcome. He really didn’t want to stay with the others at the hotel. The next few days could either be life-changing or really boring. No matter how much energy the Marines poured into their cocktails and dancing and shouting, it never infected him. It was backdrop, mediocrity. Bullshit. Not for him.

They turned onto the campus. Legon was an oasis, a brochure from America. There were trees, real hardwoods. And grass! Green grass that looked like it was watered! Dublin put his face to the glass. Students walked next to each other with backpacks and jeans and baseball caps. The buildings were named and kept up. And there, to his right, Dublin saw something that nearly put a tear in his eye. It was a bell tower, grand and bricked in red, with a gleaming spire upon the roof. Just as it began to pass behind them, the bell began to sway and peal, its vibrations felt in the glass upon which Dublin’s head rested.

“Where do you want to be dropped off?” Matthew asked him. The truck idled at a roundabout.

“Well, I don’t know. I can’t remember the name of the dorm. I guess at the next building, and I’ll ask around for him.”

“This building here?”

“Sure.”

Matthew put on the brake. Jared let him out and handed him his bag. “Just grab a taxi and head down to the hotel if you can’t find him. You can stay with one of us. You remember what it’s called?” Dublin nodded. “Alright. If we don’t see you, have fun. Movie next Friday night, OK?” Dublin nodded again. “OK. Be good.” Jared crawled back into the truck and waved to Dublin, who felt like he was being dropped off at school by his father.

All around Dublin, hundreds of students walked the campus, the green grass under their feet and the blue sky above them giving him pause. The bell in the tower echoed off the buildings. He suddenly felt more alone than he ever had in Africa.

Found

I was looking through old things recently and found my Student ID card from the university in Togo.

My 1997 Student ID card from Togo

Yes, that’s the original paper clip. It reminds me of the opposing forces at work in African culture: the emphasis on official business and regulations (the need to have an ID) and the casual approach to life (attaching a photo to an ID with a paper clip). I don’t think I ever had to show it to anyone.

Bribing the Border Part 2

In this chapter, Dublin meets a moneychanger.


Bribing the Border (Part 2)

Three hours passed with the help of a few more beers and shade from the mosque. He had watched hundreds of people cross back and forth, each one of them different, except for the Fanyogo vendor on a bicycle who gave free ice cream to the guards. He had chocolate frozen yogurt, which they didn’t have anywhere else in Togo, and Dublin had had two already. They begrudgingly mixed with his beer.

He had noticed one of the black market bankers across the street glancing over at the bar. His assistant wore horn-rimmed glasses and short, clean haircut. Bored, Dublin stood up and walked over to them.

The elder moneychanger nodded his head slowly at Dublin as he approached. His assistant did nothing but stare at him through his rabble-rousing glasses. Dublin stopped in front of the two of them without saying anything. Now that he’d made it over there, fear came back in buckets.

“I see you over there,” the older man said. He stared for another moment. “Waiting for someone?”

“Yes. A friend. From Ghana.”

“White man?”

“Yes.”

“You’re what, German?”

“No, American.”

“Oh, I see. It is a very strange, difficult, wonderful place, isn’t it.” He began chewing on the stems of his glasses. “Mmmm…yes it is.”

“Germany?”

“Togo.”

“Oh.” He thought about that. “Aren’t you from here?”

“No, friend, I am from Ghana. But I live over here because there are more Muslims here. That is why I have my shop here instead of Asigamé, because of the mosque.” He pointed over Dublin’s shoulder.

“That’s right. I’ve seen a lot of change-makers at the market.”

“That’s because it is the street of money. But business is good here at the border, too.” He smiled. “You don’t want to hear about that.”

“What makes you think that?”

“I can see, you’re far away, and it’s not because of your friend.”

“No, no. I just need to keep an eye out for him. He could come through at any moment.”

“You bribed the border guards?”

“Yep. I don’t know if I can trust them, though.”

“I would tell you not to trust anyone, but you’ve probably heard it before.” The man took a thermos out from behind his chair and poured steaming water into a tea cup. He shook herbs into the cup from an open canister. “Besides, it’s not true.” Spoon like bells in the cup.

“You can trust people?”

“Yes.”

“The border guards?”

“No.” He laughed. “But only because they act on whimsy. They wouldn’t consider helping you without payment, but whether they do or not depends on their memory and the pendulum swinging in their hearts.” He continued to stir his tea. “It’s nothing personal,” he added thoughtfully.

“I don’t know what to make of people here. I can’t tell if it’s personal or not, the children singing yovo songs and prices getting hiked up and silent cab drivers.”

“Nothing is personal but God.”

“You know, it’s funny, in the States people are reluctant to speak about politics and religion. No one here will talk politics, but everyone wants to talk about God.”

“Of course. I always talk about God. I’m Muslim. We live good lives. The Christians preach good lives. The Jews, well, they remember good lives.” He took off his glasses and chewed on them, which Dublin found comforting, a warm idiosyncrasy from a man who seemed ahead of the game. Dublin’s mind wandered.

You see? This is the kind of person I want to be. Someone wise, someone comfortable. Attractive in appearance and sound of voice. I have to get like this.

They said nothing, but the ocean spoke for them in softly crushing waves a mere hundred feet away. The old man sipped his tea. His assistant kept one hand on a stack of Cedis to keep the wind from blowing them away. Throughout, the chatter of the border crossing kept their minds adrift. Dublin felt a depth of silence from the bar he had visited, counteracted by occasions of raised voices from Customs. The sun moved slowly over them as if aware of the quiet of their content.

“What time is it?” Dublin asked after some time.

“Near four.” Dublin tightened the corners of his lips. “Not time to give up yet,” the moneychanger added.

“Maybe not, but I get the sense that nothing is going to happen today.”

“I do not.”

“Really? You think he’ll come?”

“I haven’t any idea. But, young one, something happens everyday. God does not sleep.”

“No, I know. I mean, every day leads us to the next, and even little events, you know, how they say that a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan can cause a thunderstorm in Canada?”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“Just that any small event can cause another, big or little. I’m saying that every day counts, whether it feels like it or not.”

“I’m simply making the point that God has a plan, and when people complain about the evil we face, they forget that. In good times, everyone says that God has done well, but they do not pray. When things go bad, they ask God for change.”

“A vote of no confidence,” his apprentice added, the first thing he’d said all day. The moneychanger nodded.

“You see?”

“Yes.”

“So, do you talk to God?”

“Well, no. I mean, in my own way.”

The moneychanger laughed. “In your own way? There is no way to talk to God but his way.” He stopped laughing. “I don’t mean to proselytize, my friend, but acting within the will of God often produces positive results.”

“Well, it’s not that I don’t believe in God. I just don’t talk to him.”

“Then what good is your belief? If you have a wife, it would benefit you to tell her you love her.”

“Yes, I understand. I’ve seen God; I’ve seen his face. I asked for proof and he delivered. So what can I say? I don’t act as a believer, but I know he exists. Maybe the only way to truth is by leaving all your doors open.”

“Don’t you think that should change?”

“I guess so. I don’t know. I look at it like this. I know that my life is intended for good, and that I have a purpose, to spread information and encourage people to love well and treat each other well, and advance the species, so to speak. I’m doing all the work he’d want me to do, I just don’t talk to him about it. I guess I figured that would be OK.”

“Perhaps. He is proud of you and your accomplishment, but he probably misses you. Something to think about.”

Dublin lit a cigarette. The sun smiled above them and moved on.

A faint smile came over the dark, dry lips of the moneychanger, as song leaped from the mosque behind them into the cooling air of the evening. Many of the men lining the street rolled out mats and knelt down. Dublin put out his cigarette out of respect and stood back. He felt like an invasion. Watching the men brought him peace, and for a moment he forgot about Curran coming. He imagined that the man calling prayers never left the mosque, that his life was exquisite in its holiness. He watched for another moment before leaving, a smile still painted over him.

His feet sank into the street, and sand found its way under his heels. God is great rocked gently back and forth in his ears. A blackbird swooped in behind him and hopped around his footsteps to see what he had uncovered.

Bribing the Border Part 1

In this chapter, Dublin bribes border guards and takes his post at a bar.

The arch at the border between Togo and Ghana


Bribing the Border (Part 1)

Dublin woke up at five in the morning and dressed without showering. He made coffee and smoked until the sun came up, still not daring to wander around Bordertown in the dark. The stories of thieves and terrorists were mostly left out of the Togo Presse, but not the mouths of his neighbors.

After dawn, Dublin stood up to go. Imagining a procession of beer and bribes throughout the day, he filled his pockets with cash and left to intercept Curran at the border. It was as bustling as the big market once he arrived. He’d never been this close before to the actual crossing. The giant blue archway on the Ghana side of the border was much larger than it looked from four blocks away. Gas tankers lined up in front of the vehicle checkpoint. The border guards were especially bureaucratic that day, smirking their way through supplemental fees and imaginary papers. The predetermination of the game doesn’t take away from the need to play it out.

Dublin could only guess at his role in the game. He knew it involved cash and adeptness at the skill of corruption. Like everything else he’d done in Africa, it was something he was willing to try without really knowing how to do it. For once, he thought, it would be nice to come across a familiar moment. He took a deep breath and approached a female soldier at the checkpoint.

She smiled at him like she might at a child. Her partner put a hand on his rifle and stared at him with the empty eyes of dark sunglasses.

“English?” She nodded. “I have a friend coming over today from Ghana. I want to give him a message.”

“Is he white?”

“Yes. He has curly brown hair and glasses. He’s coming from Accra.”

“Is he tall like you?”

“Yes. I was hoping you could give him a note from me.”

“Does he have arms like you?”

“What? I don’t know. I guess.”

“What do you want me to tell him?”

Dublin fumbled the map and letter he’d written from his jeans pocket. “I want you to give him this. I live here in Kodjoviakopé, and I don’t want him to go into town. His name is here at the top.” He felt a little worried about giving them a map to his house, but he didn’t know what else to do. He’d have to trust them.

“I will need help if you want me to give him this. I can’t be bothered by everybody who crosses the border. You see all these people,” she waved her arm over the crowd, “they need my attention. Can you help me somehow so I can give him this?” Dublin put his hand back in his pocket and pulled out two thousand CFA. She smiled at the other guard. “He will need help, too.” Dublin gave her three thousand more.

“Will you give him the note?” Dublin asked.

“Yes, I think I can help you.” The smile had never left her face. Dublin thanked her and walked away while the wind blew their laughter around him. His plan had two parts: bribe the guards and keep an eye out for Curran from one of the bars. There was only one within eyesight of the checkpoint, and a dark blue sign above the door was painted with the name Plage des Esclaves: Slave Beach. It was dark inside, and three or four men sat at the counter without talking. Dublin felt like he had just walked into a saloon in Tombstone, the silhouette of a man who wasn’t welcome in these parts. The bartender handed him a large bottle of Pils without a word, and Dublin didn’t wait for his change. He walked back outside and settled at one of the two tables in front of the bar. It was seven-thirty in the morning.

 

The Letter (Part 2)

In this chapter, Dublin gets a letter from a friend.


The Letter (part 2)

Dublin could only wait three days to return to the Center. The secretary had walked with him on the beach and shared a glass of port with him several times in his dreams. He put on polyester and caught a cab downtown.

Dublin walked up the same stairs to the Center offices, pulling himself up with the railing. His knees hurt. An AIDS poster had been hung on the stairwell wall since his last visit. There was a picture of a six year old girl crying on it.

Dublin noticed they didn’t have any air conditioning in the building as he rounded the corner into the main room. Ah, there she was. She wore a colorful gold and red dress that dipped a little lower than usual in Togo. What a vision. He walked up to the desk, confident.

“Hi!”

“Hello, may I help you?” she asked without looking up, again.

“It’s me.” She sighed and glanced up at him.

“Yes?”

“I came to check my mail.”

“Find your box in the cubbyholes behind me. You can check it yourself, remember?”

“Yes. Sorry. Yes. I can find it.” His confidence jumped on a ferry that quickly left port. He walked around her desk and up to the mailboxes. There weren’t many letters. None of the boxes had names on them, either. He pulled out one letter in a blue Air Mail envelope. It was addressed to S. King. Nope. He looked back at the secretary, who was still absorbed in her paperwork. What would David and Vegard do? They’d ask her out. Dinner, or a drink? They would definitely ask her for a drink. Try to get her drunk. Better chance at sex. That’s what they’d do. Well, that’s not what I’m going to do. I don’t want to bother her. Better that she likes me and doesn’t know me than to be annoyed by me.

The next envelope he pulled out was handwritten in English. He had to look closely at it to make it out, but it was addressed to Dublin Green in care of the embassy in Togo. He couldn’t read who it was from.

“Hey, I have a letter,” he said to the secretary.

“That’s good,” she said.

“It says it was sent to the Embassy.”

“Yes. Letters sent to the Embassy get sent over here if they don’t recognize the name. You’re lucky you came over here. It would have been thrown away.”

“Really?”

“Yes. How long are you staying here?”

“Oh, I don’t know. July I guess. I should be done by then.” He had a sudden impulse to tell her why he was really here. Maybe she’d be impressed if she knew what an important mission he had. But no, he wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. They mustn’t know until it was time. He had work to do.

Outside of the Center, he tried to make a decision about what to do the rest of the day. He could go to the market, since it was all around him. He loved to shop. Or he could go home, but he spent too much time there. He decided since it was already three o’clock to get a beer at one of the beachfront bars.

The one that stood out to him was called One Two Three. A lot of bars in Lomé had English names. It was part of the new culture of Africa, of the Americanization of the world. It was the One Two Three in the Walkmans strapped around the ears of Togolese teenagers, in the straps of Michael Jordan tank tops, the profiles of Kid ‘N’ Play painted on placards outside barber shops. Instead of making Dublin feel at home, it made Togo’s culture seem even more foreign, corrupted, like Togo had had a one night stand with the United States and was clinging to the experience.

He ripped open the top of the envelope, trying not to tear into the scribbled address in the upper left corner. He took a drink of his beer, a Ngoma Brun, his new favorite, and it made his mouth feel bitter and antiseptic.

The letter was from Curran Kirkpatrick, his friend from school who had arrived in Africa a few weeks after Dublin. Curran wrote that he had tried to get over to Togo already, but as he was sure Dublin had already discovered, travel between countries was extremely difficult. That’s funny. I don’t think it’s hard at all. I’ve already been to Burkina Faso. All he has to do is take a taxi for three hours east. What’s the problem?

The letter said that he would try again the third weekend of March. That was this weekend. That was tomorrow. Dublin finished his beer quickly and settled up. He had things to do.

 

The Letter (Part 1)

In this chapter, Dublin talks to a bird, shakes off a hangover, and meets a secretary.


The Letter (part 1)

Dublin woke up with heavy tables sitting on his eyes. They were loaded with empty glasses of rum. It took him forty minutes to climb out of bed and shower, cold water running over and around his eyes, looking for an opening. He made hot tea and sat up on the roof in his underwear. A bird flew over him, circled back, and settled on a planter just a few feet from Dublin. “The severity of a hangover is directly proportional to one’s proximity to the equator,” he said to the bird, which flew away somewhere around “proximity.”  He felt better.

And even better after a short nap.

——

Dublin walked slowly up the stairs to the second floor offices of the American Cultural Center. They were wrapped in scored linoleum. He liked taking the stairs; they gave him time to think.

Someone had told him about being able to receive mail at the Center. The building was just off Rue de Commerce downtown, still within the walking boundaries of the Grand Marchet. The Embassy was right across the street, but Dublin had never noticed the Cultural Center before. It smelled like ammonia inside.

The stairs opened up to a large room with several desks and private offices and ceiling fans and paperwork filling it up. He walked up to a desk facing the entrance and stood in front of it, waiting. The woman at the desk did not raise her head. He cleared his throat. Nothing.

“Excuse me.” His voice emerged nervously. You weren’t supposed to ignore people, especially if you were sitting at a desk.

“Just a moment,” she said, still writing. Her voice sounded like two hundred magpies. He looked around the room a little more. He could hear people making office noises in the little spaces off of the main room. I wonder what all these people get paid to do.

“Yes?” She was looking up at him now, and his knees sank into each other. She was the most beautiful woman he had seen since coming to Togo. Her eyes curved into violet ribbons over delicate laugh lines. “May I help you?” Her lips flirted with him.

“Um, yes. I need to, they said I could get, or, can I send, can I do mail here?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Dublin. Dublin Green.”

“No, who are you? What are you doing in Togo?”

“Oh! I’m a student. At UB.”

“Yes, you can receive your mail here. Outgoing letters go in this box,” she pointed, “and incoming letters will arrive in your box. Over there, right behind me. You see?” He nodded. “Good. Anything else?” He thought of a million things to ask her, to talk about. He looked at her fingers to see if she was wearing a ring. They were naked.

“Anything else, Monsieur?” He tried to delay, but shook his head at last. She gave him one last smile and put her head back down deep into her work.

 

Falling Off

 

In this chapter, the Norwegians leave Africa. After a beer or two.

 


Falling Off

“He’s gone, Landlord.”

“Already? I mean, he didn’t wake me up or anything?”

“No. He left for airport at six this morning to get Aeroflot ticket. He’s gone.” David’s accent was heavy.

“Well, shit. Why do you think he left in such a hurry?”

“Let me have one of your cigarettes so I can tell you.” Dublin gave him one. “Now, Landlord,” he said, lighting it, “our friend has left in such a hurry because he is paranoid. He is delusional on his best days, and constantly living under the shadow of pretext and tricks of the mind. Does that explain it?”

“No.”

“Vegard is bad enough without the booze. The other night, whatever happened to him, it scared him bad. He is afraid he is going to die. He is afraid he’s young and has done nothing but drink and shit all over Africa and sleep with hookers. He knew the only thing to do was get on a plane. I imagine he will go to the hospital someday soon. Something is wrong with his prick.”

“Oh.”

“I leave today. I need some socks. A clean, white pair of socks for my travel with the Russians. Do you have socks for me?” Dublin nodded.

“But what happened the other night? Did you ever find out? And what happened to you?”

“I don’t know what happened to him. He won’t tell me. I saw him at Robinet, and then he was gone while I danced with two blackies. I waited for him for hours, even after the girls left, and he didn’t come back. I took taxi home, one of the two-wheelers, and the damn thief tried to rob me. I fell off his moto. Didn’t you hear me screaming?” Dublin shook his head. “Well, clearly, it is time to go. The car is sold. I don’t have any money left. Daddy’s credit card died three days ago. I have my ticket for Aeroflot today. In fact, I am already packed. Help me down to the beach so I can get a beer and a taxi.”

“Not done drinking yet?”

“Of course not. I still have to get on a plane. Grab that bag. And that bag. Good. Let’s go.” He opened the front door and let Dublin walk through first. “You’ll have to say goodbye to Belem for me. It’s too bad he’s not here. We had many good talks together.”

“You did?”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“He is a fine man. Doesn’t say shit, but he’s sharp.” Dublin suddenly felt bad he hadn’t had a good conversation with Belem for a while. He made himself a promise to do that as they walked through the gate.

Dublin struggled a little with David’s bags. The two walked side by side down Dublin’s nameless road to the coast, where cars zipped back and forth from the border to downtown. David walked past Hotel Lilly, shaking his finger at it, and into a bar facing the ocean. Dublin followed him in and let his bags fall to the floor in front of the bar.

“Can you buy me a beer, Landlord? You don’t have to drink.”

“No, I’ll drink. I can drink. I’ll buy you a beer.” He didn’t want a beer, but…you know. And besides, it was his last chance to drink with one of the most degraded men he’d ever met.

Dublin listened to David talk while they drank, about his upcoming flight, about having to go back to work, and about his band in Norway, Astroburger. “I will send you something. I think you will like it. I can tell you are the kind of man who is ready to fall in love with Astroburger.” It sounded like a sales pitch from an episode of The Jetsons. They made sure to exchange addresses, told a few more stories, and drank about three more beers. Just as Dublin started to feel heady, David wiped his mouth and stood up.

“OK, Landlord. This is goodbye. Don’t forget me.” He gave Dublin a hug and squeezed his butt.

“Do you want me to go to the airport with you?”

“No. You should stay here and drink.” He bent over and picked up his bags. “Tell the darkies their lives won’t be the same without me. I’m off.”

Dublin watched him walk out the door and stop at the street. A moment later, a taxi stopped in front of him, blaring soukous. He bent over the passenger door and pointed at the ocean. “How much?” The driver shook his head, confused. “Then take me to the airport.” He placed his bags in the back seat and climbed into the front. He always sat in the front of cabs, maybe to force something different onto people. Dublin waited for him to wave as the cab started off, but David stared straight ahead, silent, as the car pulled into traffic.

Dublin stood outside the bar with his hands in his pockets. There wasn’t a bit of wind coming in from the sea, and sweat pursed above his upper lip. He had a lot of thinking to do. Now that the Norwegians were gone, he had to find his focus. Enough time had passed for him to find some comfort in his new home. Now he had work to do. The world was a spiritual virgin for him to take in, ready and swollen for his teachings. Once he figured out exactly what those were, he would force them upon the planet with a gentle ferocity.

He started back home, a little sad. He felt more determined than ever to start writing, to get all his thoughts back down on paper. Soon he’d have to figure out a way for the meaning of life to be injected into the blood of African culture. These poor people that had started the whole world tens of thousands of years ago had fallen on hard times for the last few centuries. It was time to make things right.

In front of his gate suddenly, Dublin paused before reaching over the top of it to throw the latch. What would he do inside? There was all kinds of daylight left, and it was Friday. Plenty of time to do anything. Anything.

Friday – he could go to the Marines’ house tonight. It was movie night. Maybe there’d be some good looking Peace Corps girls there he hadn’t met yet. With hours to go, he had time to drink heavily until night fell. He turned his back on the house and checked his pocket for cash. He had a few thousand francs. It wouldn’t be hard at all to get good and tanked at a local bar. Maybe Mandela’s.

He started walking. Yes, at Mandela’s he could find somebody who knew where the Marines lived and ride there with him. Life could wait.

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: