In this chapter, Dublin hitches a ride from a French woman, who is also giving a ride to two young Togolese men going to see their grandfather on his birthday.
from Hitchhiking to Kara
The two men were also students at UB. They had been picked up by the French woman downtown, by chance. They were going to the village for their grandfather’s birthday.
“How old is he?” the woman asked.
“He will be ninety-seven.”
“Wow. I didn’t think anyone lived that long over here,” Dublin said.
The young man in the front seat squeaked and looked back at him. “My friend, when you see him, you will believe.” He turned back around.
They drove for about two hundred kilometers, mostly in silence, watching the road rush by them on either side and villages come into and fall out of existence, black plumes of smoke from coal fires pouring into the sky. The boy in front began giving directions to the French woman, and they came to a stop at last in a very small village just off the highway.
Dublin followed the two boys into a short hut next to the car, calling out their arrival. They offered Dublin a seat inside the main room, where their grandfather sat in one of two chairs. His hair was brittle and patchy; it had started to fall out in bales. An unbuttoned linen shirt revealed a chest so diminutive, Dublin could have counted his ribs from across the village. He had cataracts in both eyes, and one of them bulged out from his eyelids, sheathed in sky blue film. He smiled affectionately at the boys, looking toward the wall in blue blindness. They had brought him a bottle of whiskey for his birthday and opened it for him. He took a sip of it, then a longer drink, smiling broadly and licking his lips. Some of the whiskey dripped onto his chest, running over his ribs and onto his pants.
They talked in French, probably to make things more comfortable for Dublin, who stayed respectfully silent. Dublin liked the old man almost immediately, even though he couldn’t understand the geri-African accent. He bided his time by looking around the house. It was spare and functional, more a reflection of the man’s age than his economy. The sounds of the village through the window were muted; there couldn’t be more than fifty or sixty people living here.
Dublin had started to get the feeling that Togolese people were much more open with their families and neighbors than Americans. He couldn’t imagine hitchhiking in the States, much less having the people who pick him up bring him to their grandfather’s house on his birthday. Some of it was about race; Africans wanted to show things to white people. But it doesn’t explain everything. Everyone in Togo wanted to go to America, but Dublin was sure that if they did, they’d be surprised at all the loneliness.
“Americain?” he heard the old man say.
“Oui. Il est aussi étudiant.”
“Ah, bon,” he whispered and cleared his throat. He looked directly at Dublin with blind eyes, then croaked, “Dis nigger’s still kickin’!” He squinted at Dublin a little bit, gave a half smile, and turned back to his grandsons. If it was the only English he’d learned, he had picked a hell of a line. Dublin was still sitting in the chair in shock when the boys motioned to him that it was time to go. He followed them out the door with one last look at the old man, who was sitting cross-legged and looked very much like he had just passed away.