In this chapter, Dublin meets a moneychanger.
Bribing the Border (Part 2)
Three hours passed with the help of a few more beers and shade from the mosque. He had watched hundreds of people cross back and forth, each one of them different, except for the Fanyogo vendor on a bicycle who gave free ice cream to the guards. He had chocolate frozen yogurt, which they didn’t have anywhere else in Togo, and Dublin had had two already. They begrudgingly mixed with his beer.
He had noticed one of the black market bankers across the street glancing over at the bar. His assistant wore horn-rimmed glasses and short, clean haircut. Bored, Dublin stood up and walked over to them.
The elder moneychanger nodded his head slowly at Dublin as he approached. His assistant did nothing but stare at him through his rabble-rousing glasses. Dublin stopped in front of the two of them without saying anything. Now that he’d made it over there, fear came back in buckets.
“I see you over there,” the older man said. He stared for another moment. “Waiting for someone?”
“Yes. A friend. From Ghana.”
“You’re what, German?”
“Oh, I see. It is a very strange, difficult, wonderful place, isn’t it.” He began chewing on the stems of his glasses. “Mmmm…yes it is.”
“Oh.” He thought about that. “Aren’t you from here?”
“No, friend, I am from Ghana. But I live over here because there are more Muslims here. That is why I have my shop here instead of Asigamé, because of the mosque.” He pointed over Dublin’s shoulder.
“That’s right. I’ve seen a lot of change-makers at the market.”
“That’s because it is the street of money. But business is good here at the border, too.” He smiled. “You don’t want to hear about that.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I can see, you’re far away, and it’s not because of your friend.”
“No, no. I just need to keep an eye out for him. He could come through at any moment.”
“You bribed the border guards?”
“Yep. I don’t know if I can trust them, though.”
“I would tell you not to trust anyone, but you’ve probably heard it before.” The man took a thermos out from behind his chair and poured steaming water into a tea cup. He shook herbs into the cup from an open canister. “Besides, it’s not true.” Spoon like bells in the cup.
“You can trust people?”
“The border guards?”
“No.” He laughed. “But only because they act on whimsy. They wouldn’t consider helping you without payment, but whether they do or not depends on their memory and the pendulum swinging in their hearts.” He continued to stir his tea. “It’s nothing personal,” he added thoughtfully.
“I don’t know what to make of people here. I can’t tell if it’s personal or not, the children singing yovo songs and prices getting hiked up and silent cab drivers.”
“Nothing is personal but God.”
“You know, it’s funny, in the States people are reluctant to speak about politics and religion. No one here will talk politics, but everyone wants to talk about God.”
“Of course. I always talk about God. I’m Muslim. We live good lives. The Christians preach good lives. The Jews, well, they remember good lives.” He took off his glasses and chewed on them, which Dublin found comforting, a warm idiosyncrasy from a man who seemed ahead of the game. Dublin’s mind wandered.
You see? This is the kind of person I want to be. Someone wise, someone comfortable. Attractive in appearance and sound of voice. I have to get like this.
They said nothing, but the ocean spoke for them in softly crushing waves a mere hundred feet away. The old man sipped his tea. His assistant kept one hand on a stack of Cedis to keep the wind from blowing them away. Throughout, the chatter of the border crossing kept their minds adrift. Dublin felt a depth of silence from the bar he had visited, counteracted by occasions of raised voices from Customs. The sun moved slowly over them as if aware of the quiet of their content.
“What time is it?” Dublin asked after some time.
“Near four.” Dublin tightened the corners of his lips. “Not time to give up yet,” the moneychanger added.
“Maybe not, but I get the sense that nothing is going to happen today.”
“I do not.”
“Really? You think he’ll come?”
“I haven’t any idea. But, young one, something happens everyday. God does not sleep.”
“No, I know. I mean, every day leads us to the next, and even little events, you know, how they say that a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan can cause a thunderstorm in Canada?”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“Just that any small event can cause another, big or little. I’m saying that every day counts, whether it feels like it or not.”
“I’m simply making the point that God has a plan, and when people complain about the evil we face, they forget that. In good times, everyone says that God has done well, but they do not pray. When things go bad, they ask God for change.”
“A vote of no confidence,” his apprentice added, the first thing he’d said all day. The moneychanger nodded.
“So, do you talk to God?”
“Well, no. I mean, in my own way.”
The moneychanger laughed. “In your own way? There is no way to talk to God but his way.” He stopped laughing. “I don’t mean to proselytize, my friend, but acting within the will of God often produces positive results.”
“Well, it’s not that I don’t believe in God. I just don’t talk to him.”
“Then what good is your belief? If you have a wife, it would benefit you to tell her you love her.”
“Yes, I understand. I’ve seen God; I’ve seen his face. I asked for proof and he delivered. So what can I say? I don’t act as a believer, but I know he exists. Maybe the only way to truth is by leaving all your doors open.”
“Don’t you think that should change?”
“I guess so. I don’t know. I look at it like this. I know that my life is intended for good, and that I have a purpose, to spread information and encourage people to love well and treat each other well, and advance the species, so to speak. I’m doing all the work he’d want me to do, I just don’t talk to him about it. I guess I figured that would be OK.”
“Perhaps. He is proud of you and your accomplishment, but he probably misses you. Something to think about.”
Dublin lit a cigarette. The sun smiled above them and moved on.
A faint smile came over the dark, dry lips of the moneychanger, as song leaped from the mosque behind them into the cooling air of the evening. Many of the men lining the street rolled out mats and knelt down. Dublin put out his cigarette out of respect and stood back. He felt like an invasion. Watching the men brought him peace, and for a moment he forgot about Curran coming. He imagined that the man calling prayers never left the mosque, that his life was exquisite in its holiness. He watched for another moment before leaving, a smile still painted over him.
His feet sank into the street, and sand found its way under his heels. God is great rocked gently back and forth in his ears. A blackbird swooped in behind him and hopped around his footsteps to see what he had uncovered.