Long Pants Under a Hot Sun

A novel about Africa, drinking and the meaning of life

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.

 

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