Long Pants Under a Hot Sun

A novel about Africa, drinking and the meaning of life

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

FESPACO (part 2)

FESPACO (part 2)

Dublin and the Norwegians retired to the hotel. David paid for everything, which amounted to thirty-seven quarts of beer in a little under five hours. The sun had gone from the sky without them noticing. They laughed so much that even Vegard couldn’t help but join in, and Dublin had not a fear in the world. He started believing he was taking another step on his journey, that he was close to finding meaning in existence.

Ah…beer.

“Where’s David?” he asked Vegard after returning from an especially pleasant daydream.

“Pissing in the street.” Vegard pointed. David was indeed in the very middle of the street in front of the hotel, shifting from foot to foot as he tried to steady his stream of urine. The Africans were not pleased. Urinating on the walls was prohibited in Ouagadougou. Pissing in the street was probably more so.

“Come help me,” Dublin ordered Vegard as he pushed his chair back. David had sunk to his knees by the time Dublin got to him, rubbing his eyes. “Come on, David. Let’s get back to the hotel.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re pissing people off.”

“Pissing. Off.” He giggled. Dublin tugged at him. “Good!” he exclaimed with a false and sudden sobriety. “I like to show people how the world works without rules!”

“I know you do, but they just don’t want to walk in your urine.”

“So?”

“And they don’t want their kids to walk in it, either.”

“I don’t like kids.”

“But their parents do. So now do you get it?”

“Hmm, yes. Very clear. I should stand up and walk away.”

“Yep.” He helped David to his feet and away from the hotel. Doors to homes closed. “How about we take you to bed?”

“No. We have to see this man.”

“What man?”

“The blues man.”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“He’s, OK, I’ll show you. He makes blues and he makes guitars. Or he plays guitars. He makes blues with guitars.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Come on.”

They walked down the street, and Dublin started to lose his temper. Two blocks, three blocks, four blocks. Dublin found himself thinking about Dr. Seuss. Clocks. He wanted to vomit.

“Some barrio pleasant gin,” David said passionately. Dublin didn’t notice. He hummed. He’s a mean one, Mr. Grinch. I wouldn’t touch him with a ten and a half foot pole. La la la. “Mistake. On the rocks. Foo foo go hang gliding. Four. Forty.” Dublin was too far into his head to pay any attention. Hum, hum, hum. One fish two fish red fish blue fish.

David yanked his arm. “I told you! He makes blue!” On the corner across from them, an old, old, old man hunched over a wooden half barrel with a steel guitar perched on his lap. Words shook out of his mouth, wavering around the lower reaches of his range. His sadness was enormous; Dublin knew that much, even as far into the bottle as he’d fallen. The man had a harmonica stand curled around his neck, and every twelve bars or so he’d blow into it, asking it for the answers to the questions in his song. There weren’t any. It was good blues.

Somehow Vegard had caught up with them, and he stood quietly next to Dublin with his hands in his pockets. They listened to four or five songs, entranced. A taxi driver shouted at them from the sidewalk to get out of the middle of the street, but there weren’t any other cars around, and they wouldn’t have cared if there were.

Better than the movie. I wish I could be him, Dublin said silently, barely moving his lips. One of them turned on his heel, and the other two followed without a word. They waved at each other as they split into three ways at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor of the hotel. Dublin dropped off to sleep immediately and dreamt all night.

FESPACO (part 1)

FESPACO (part 1)

“Chicken babies, little boy, all hot and scrambled!” David opened the door to Dublin’s room and peeked in on him. He was still asleep. David remembered seeing him pop his Lariam pills the night before, and now he was kicking in his sleep. He must be dreaming in Kubrick, David thought.

Dublin tried to crack the blur in his eyes and saw a mosquito on his nose. It jumped away before he could bring it to justice. Waking up in Africa was hard enough. Waking up in Africa to David’s audible, strange psychology through a hotel door was worse.

“What?”

“Chicken babies in a shell, broken open and put in a hot pan! Vodka! Come, my boy. It’s breakfast time!” David walked in.

Dublin pulled the sheets around him and sat on the edge of the bed. His joints were still asleep and popped unhappily.

“What are we doing?”

“Breakfast, little sleepy boy.”

“No, I mean today.”

“Vodka, walking, watch movies at FESPACO, get intermission whiskey, watch movies by crazy natives, fall asleep in theater, get dinner and drinks. That’s today and tomorrow. Then we drink for three days, and then we try to find the car and return to Lomé.”

“Oh.”

“So clothes for you, and quickly. You can find us in the bar.”

“Really?” Dublin muttered as David shut the door behind him.

Dublin could smell the sweat from all over his body as he stretched his way out of bed. Clean was as fleeting as cool breezes lapped up by the ocean. He wasn’t in the mood to shower. He hadn’t brought many clothes to begin with, and he didn’t see any harm in putting on what he’d worn the day before. The only people who would know were the gin twins, and they probably couldn’t even remember anything for longer than six hours.

It took him seven minutes to gather his belongings and head down the stairs. They creaked charmingly. Hotels almost always made Dublin feel expensive. He nodded to the man at the front desk and searched around for David and Vegard.

The bar was empty. Dublin worried.

“Hey little boy! Good for you to join us! We go now.” They were standing out in front of the hotel, sweating from shaved heads and squinting behind dark European sunglasses. Upon Dublin’s first step into the street, he saw their heads move slightly to the left as a wall of Harmattan wind ran between the hotel and the barbershop across the way from it. Dust, hordes of it, gathered in between his eyes and his sunglasses, and he trapped much of it with his eyelids. A truck tried to hit him while his eyes were closed.

“Close one, baby boy! He didn’t even spin the wheel. What, didn’t you see him?”

“No. I had dust in my eyes.” Dublin blinked. And again.

“Well, no tears. We go film now.” David delighted in Africanizing his grammar. Maybe it made him feel not quite as Norwegian. God knows the drinking didn’t.

Dublin followed the two men down the street, and the next, and then down a street to the right. There were more bicycles and cars and street stands the farther they got from the hotel, and Dublin heard the sound of crowds grow. Another block, and he could feel it in his tummy. Around the corner, and there it was: thousands of people sliding around each other in a tremendous courtyard with elegant, cream-colored Muslim arches at each of the four corners. Harmattan swirled in, and thousand of heads bent down into thousands of shirts and colorful dresses.

“What is with this wind?”

“Haven’t you seen it yet?”

“Huh-uh.”

“You will, soon, in Lomé. It’s drier up here, but another month without rain and you’ll be battling this same dust and wind in your own home,” Vegard said, his first words of the morning. He sounded like a cigar-throated general foreseeing a difficult battle. He looked awfully thin, and his eyes pushed against the dark circles beneath them. Into the circus of elbows and coffee-sack clothing they walked, pushing and being pushed as they made their way to the open-air theaters. Dublin heard film soundtracks bumping up against each other in the air above the crowd, and he looked up to see waves of Harmattan dust coiling into tide pools. People stepped on his feet, and he knew at that moment he was alive.

They found their way into a theater between films. Most of the seats were empty, and they found three together in the front row. Dublin had always wanted to sit in the front row of movie theaters, since he was little, but never spoke up because most people didn’t like to be close. He found it fascinating for the space in front of him to be so full of movie that there was nothing else, so that he was in the movie, of the movie. Also, it kept him awake.

People found their way into and out of the theater, without the patience to wait for the film to begin. It did, at last, after the man in charge of loading film had returned from lunch. The screen flickered with white flashes and splashes of black and blue, the silhouettes of hair and mosquitoes making shadow puppets.

“This movie is from India,” the film loader called from his booth. It started. On the screen, a veiled woman poured water from an urn into a dry, soiled fountain. The sun rose behind her. Far away, a man guided a mule across the desert. She washed her hands in the mud at the bottom of the fountain, spreading it across her feet and then on her arms. They heard the mule bell, but not the wind working up dust from the dunes.

In the next scene, the same woman poured water from an urn, different from the first urn only in that a faded blue stripe circled the lip. A man guided a mule across the desert far in the distance against a rising sun. She spread mud from the fountain on her feet and her arms. The bell around the neck of the mule tinkled and echoed against the sand dunes, swept up by an inaudible wind.

In the following scene, the same woman poured water from an urn into a dry fountain covered with a film of earth. Behind her, some two or three miles away, a man guided a mule across the vast desert. The sun bore down on him from high above, and sweat from his forehead fell to the sand dunes at his feet. The mule swayed its head from left to right, gently knocking the ball of the bell about soundlessly, while a distant whistling accompanied sand swirling into mini tornadoes across the desert.

By this time, David had fallen fast asleep, which Dublin noticed by his intermittent snores. He drooled, and a stream of it fell from his chin onto his collared shirt, working its way between the ginger and gray hairs on his chest. Dublin looked around at the rest of the audience while Vegard stared blankly at the screen. Nobody seemed to notice how awfully boring the film was. It was like being around rich people.

Thirty-one iterations of the same scene followed, each developed by subtle alterations of the original. Somehow, it ended, and Dublin’s grip on the armrests of his seat loosened. He hadn’t realized how tense he’d been. A look at his watch: four hours and twenty-three minutes had passed since the start of the movie. His neck had settled into one position, twisting his head slightly up and to the left. Vegard stood up and kicked David in the shin.

“A fine example of independent minority crap,” he snorted. He wiped his chin and his chest, which glistened. “I’m parched. This heat has gotten me all dehydrated, I suppose. My mouth hasn’t felt so dry since I went without vodka those two days we carpeted the church in Oslo.”

“That movie was horrible,” Dublin offered.

“Which,” Vegard turned to Dublin, “scene, my friend, was true?”

“What? Well, I don’t know. The first one. Then they just changed them a little bit. It was a recurring three minutes of absolute mental agony.”

“Who says it was the first one? What if it was the fifteenth scene? What does the movie mean then?”

David looked at him suspiciously. “Sometimes I don’t know if you’re really my brother or not.”

“I’m not your brother.”

“Yes, well, it’s just as I suspected. I usually don’t drink with strangers, but you’ll do since I am in such need. Movies are dull. Let’s Star beer the rest of the day away.”

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