Long Pants Under a Hot Sun

A novel about Africa, drinking and the meaning of life

Archive for the month “August, 2011”

Hitchhiking to Kara

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.

Looking back at the road in Togo

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.

Advertisements

The Albino

In this chapter, Dublin meets the Albino, one of his new neighbors in Kodjoviakope, who protects him from the lunatic.

———————

The Albino

Dublin walked back to his house from a morning of swimming in the ocean. It had knocked the holy hell out of him again, and he was too beat to even smoke on the walk back. He passed the cigarette vendors he’d become familiar with by now, an old woman and her daughter who put the sour of an African orange to shame. They never greeted him kindly and rolled his change in coins at him, which fell into the sand. They had the cheapest cigarettes in the neighborhood.

A block ahead of him, he saw the two women who ran the fish smoker just getting set up. One of them was lighting the fire for the smoker, and the other held up two tiny silver fish like earrings, buckling with laughter. He heard her giggles echo off the whitewashed walls bordering the street.

A man stepped in front of him, holding a knife and a piece of wood he was shaping. His skin was very light and freckled, and his tightly curled hair glinted red and silver in the morning sun. He smiled broadly beneath acres of thick glasses.

“Hello, brother.”

“Hello.”

“You are American.” Dublin nodded at him. “I see that you have a house up the street.” Dublin nodded again. Thief? Pimp? Schizophrenic? Friend? “My name is Robert. I come from Ghana, from the university. I am the Albino.” No decision yet.

“My name is Dublin.”

The Albino laughed deeply like James Earl Jones. “It is a genuine pleasure to meet you. I have seen you walking. How are you getting along in Africa?”

“Fine. I’m still figuring it all out.”

“My friend, you will never figure it all out. You will never figure out any of it. I don’t understand the compulsion of Westerners to handle everything they come into contact with. Africa is Atlantis, Africa is Alpha Centauri, Africa is the last reaches of the soul, always undiscovered by Man. Whites may try, but they won’t succeed. Better to enjoy what is here, which is not there where you come from.” Dublin liked him immensely.

“But let’s say I came here for a very special reason, and I’m actually relying on the Atlantis and the soul of Africa to make it work. I don’t really think of myself as being here as a white person, but as a person doing what he was put here to do.”

“What could be so important?”

“Well, I can’t tell you that. I’m not even really sure what I’m supposed to do. But I had this vision, and I-”

“A vision of coming to Togo?”

“No, a different kind of vision. Knowledge was revealed to me, let’s say. So I had this vision, and I think Africa is the only place left in the world where something from, you know, the next place, or from God, or whatever, could take form in our world. What do you think?”

“You’re telling me the spirits told you something, and you made up your mind to go to Africa so you could act on your wisdom?”

“Yes.”

“What about California?”

“Well, I don’t think that’s the same thing.”

“You know, they may have led you here to teach you something else. Perhaps what you think you are doing is just a way for you to learn something on your own. Did you think about that?”

“Well, that’s not it. Not in this case. I know what they told me is true. I just have to figure out have to tell everyone else.”

“They say Jesus walked around to every village to spread the good news. Is that what you are going to do?”

“Well, no. I was thinking there was another way.”

“That it would just happen on its own?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“Good luck.”

“Thank you.”

“So, my friend. Is there anything I can do to help you get to know your neighborhood?”

“Well, I don’t know. It’s Kodjoviakopé, right?”

“Yes. It means village of Kodjo. Kodjo is a boy’s name they take for being born on a Monday.”

“Did you grow up here?” A man was walking from the direction of the ocean towards them.

“No, no, I was born in Ghana. Nineteen-fifty-two. I came here because Ghana is too affluent now, and people don’t treat albinos very well when society is healthy. People are too poor and happy in Lomé to make fun of me. Like those two nice girls,” he pointed up the street. “They have a lot of laughter. They already talk about you. What more can you ask for? Visions from God?” He laughed.

“What are you telling him? Are you telling him about drums?” The man who had been walking up the street had reached them. He was dressed in a shirt soaked in sea salt and a pair of pants patched from linen rags.

“No, I’m not telling him about drums,” the Albino answered.

“You shouldn’t be telling him anything. Don’t tell him anything! You don’t know who he reports to.”

“A fool?” Dublin asked the Albino out loud, without really thinking.

“A fool? A fool? No, American! You are the fool!”

“He didn’t mean anything,” the Albino said, putting his freckled hand on the other man’s shoulder.

“No! He said I’m a fool! Now I will have to hit him in the face!”

Dublin looked at the Albino, then began laughing nervously and walked away, waving to both of them.

“Goodbye, my friend!” The Albino shouted as he walked away. “Say hello to God for me!” The fool was crying into the Albino’s shirt.

“A fool, a fool,” he sobbed. The sun reached its highest point in the sky, making their shadows disappear.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: