Long Pants Under a Hot Sun

A novel about Africa, drinking and the meaning of life

Smoke on the Edge of the City

In this chapter, Dublin takes a taxi to Chez Alice on the eastern edge of Lome to see the acrobats.

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Smoke on the Edge of the City

 

Dublin stood on the side of the road under billions of stars, wind from the sea moving coolly around him. Behind him he heard his taxi pulling away onto the highway, its gears moaning from the sadism of the driver. The wind tossed the tops of the palms over his head, and far above them even the stars seemed to sway in the evening’s breezes.

This was the first time he’d been outside at night. Even though he was a bit in the country, east of town, he thought he could hear thieves in the shadows. He wanted to get into the hotel quickly, and he started towards the bright sign hanging over the front door that read “Chez Alice” in looping yellow neon script.

Inside, the new environment washed over him, canceling the quiet anonymity of midnight and immersing him in loud color and people. Laughing rich men from around the world mingled with their drinks and ice cubes, and dusty children loped after each other with bored, religious faces. Acrobats in tight blue costumes gathered under a magnificent chandelier, joking with each other and shifting their weight from foot to foot. Dublin saw two American girls he recognized from Mandela’s sitting at the bar. There were American men with them, old enough to be working their second tour with the Corps. Dublin was becoming adept at recognizing volunteers; they were tan and smirky.

The girls saw him and waved him over. He met them at the bar and silently greeted everybody, shy in the crowd. He sat behind them just as the lights darkened and the acrobats formed their opening poses. An older man in a wooden chair began drumming, and the performers opened their eyes one person at a time, like a breeze blowing over the tops of wildflowers.

Slowly they moved into shapes with only the residue of natural human movement in them, balancing each other into configurations of the shadows that hide out in the bush. Dublin noticed other drummers behind the old man, teenagers picking and slapping at various tools of percussion. He could not name them.

Young boys flipped and cart-wheeled in front of the other performers, wearing flashy red and yellow pants that parachuted behind them. The crowd began applauding, and Dublin saw hard old European men glinting through their amber eyeglasses. They kept their whiskey glasses poised at their lips, laughing through bad teeth, drinking only the scenery.

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