Long Pants Under a Hot Sun

A novel about Africa, drinking and the meaning of life

Archive for the tag “Fiction”

One of the Golden Days

In this chapter, the Norwegians ask Dublin to take them to the top of the world.




One of the Golden Days

They made it into town, and Dublin coasted curiously and comfortably along the coastal highway. He had the car pointed straight towards home and was breezing down a road without stoplights. No turns, no programmed stops. He felt good, confident, still loosened up from the gin, but more in control of hands and feet than he had been.

“Landlord,” David said sullenly.

“Yes?”

“What is that big building over there?” he asked, pointing to the tallest building in Lomé.

“That’s the Hotel Deuxième Fevrier. It’s named for the second of February in Nineteen-Sixty-Something, when the president of Togo walked out of the burning wreckage of his airplane. Right before he took office, I think. There are three days of miracles or something that helped him get elected, you know, get people’s attention and good spirits and awe. They call them the three Golden Days.”

“All right, let’s go,” he said sitting up.

“To the hotel?”

“Yes! I can’t be on top of the world if I’m not on the roof of that building.”

“Well, you know, we’re at sea level. So, you really can’t be on top of the world anyway.”

“Horse shit! Take me to Deux Fevrier!” Dublin felt the gin bubble up in him, and he grinned and slammed the car into the wrong gear and took a fast corner.

“Woo hoo!” David screamed. Dublin figured he could get to the hotel by heading straight for it, like he had for home. It matched his conception of growing up, that it would happen by itself as long as time remained linear.

What a gorgeous lie that is. The roads had no intention of leading Dublin to the hotel, not the easy ones anyway. He found himself in a roundabout, cheating glances at Deux Fevrier standing over him like a dictator a quarter mile away. Round and round he went, unable to figure out where to turn off. Vegard twisted around in the back seat, his tongue pickled. David leaned out his window as the sun and clouds revolved far above him, the Peugeot in a steady curve around the circle.

“Where do I go?” Dublin asked him.

“I don’t know!” David shouted deep into Africa. The wind from the roundabout blew his hair back. He leaned out further. “I’ll ask for directions.”

“What?”

“Hooo-telll Deux Feee-vrieeer! Ou çaaaa?” David screamed, his hand cupped to the side of his mouth like a crescent moon. Taxi drivers stared at the madman.

“Oh my God,” Dublin muttered.

“Hooo-telll Deux Feee-vrieeer! Ça Ouuu?” David screamed again, his voice cracking. They went around like this a couple more times, Dublin warming up to the show, laughing deliriously, Vegard grinning like an idiot in the back and gesturing like an orchestra director. Dublin jerked the car off the roundabout, and they wound around corners into a grand parking lot, pulling to a stop in front of the hotel. Africans in tight red jackets regarded them cautiously. David jumped out of the car and calmly approached them.

                “Messieurs. Hotel Deux Fevrier. Ou ça?”

“C’est l’hotel, ici,” one of them said earnestly, pointing at the tall building behind him, unable to comprehend how this red-faced, curly-haired man could not possibly know that.

“Bon,” he said and turned back to the car. “Friends! To the bar!”

.

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The Lesson

In this chapter, Dublin gets a lesson on how to drive a manual transmission.

In a French car. In West Africa. From two very intoxicated Norwegians.



 

The Lesson

When he got back to the patio, the two girls were gone, and David was dripping in a chair. Dozens of martini glasses mingled awkwardly on the table. The men and the half-empty glasses of gin formed a symbiotic relationship. They could not die without each other. The Norwegians were drinkers of subtraction martinis; with every sip, they edged listlessly towards the longest sleep. Dublin was still young. He could still put himself through hell without any consequences.

“Look,” Vegard was saying to David, “we’re not going to talk about any religious bullshit here. I’m on fucking vacation. No politics, no God shit. And nothing about Oslo. I’m not in Oslo. I’m in To-, uh, To-“

“Darktown. I know where we are. But we’re going to run out of money. We have to sell the car.”

“Are you crazy? That car is my car. How can we get home without a car?”

“We will take airplanes. Or we can go to South Africa to get your Land Rover. We’ll go to South Africa.”

Vegard put his head back into his arms. “I’m going to lose my job,” he grumbled through his arm castles.

“No, you won’t. We’ll go get the Land Rover. We need money. Your uncle will give you a job. We’ll go to the port and sell the car in one hour. Then we can go to the club and then South Africa.”

“OK. But today we must sleep. I can’t see a thing through all this gin.”

“Of course. Landlord will have to take us home.”

“Oh, I can’t drive a stick,” Dublin fumbled through his drunk tongue, his numb lips.

“Nonsense. We will teach you on the way. We leave now.”

David dropped a pocketful of cash on the table, set a glass of gin on top and saluted the women on the beach, well out of view. Vegard shot out of his chair and then stood stock still and angled, while Dublin watched his eyes glaze over. David was already walking away from them, and Dublin helped Vegard around the table and towards the car.

The car. The growling goose egg painted in a benign spectrum. I’ve always thought that if one of our fathers or mothers from hundreds of years ago could witness just a slight selection of our technology, they would swear up and down that it ran on magic. Like the microwave, an empty box that makes food hot in a minute or so, or the record player, which derives symphonies from a pin and a hardened, grooved slab of tar. The Peugeot 504, the cinq-cent-quatre, the tiger that swallowed a combustion engine, possibly breaking parts of it on the way down, was the pinnacle of magical machines. Starting the car is like doing a magic trick; it must be willed to start, as if the pistons and the human soul strive together to create a symbio-meta-kinetic convulsion that thrusts life into moving metal and tames it with pedals.

David was already at the car when the other two arrived; he was looking for the key and had turned out all his pockets in his short jean cutoffs. “I can’t find the fucking key, Landlord.”

“I’ve got it,” Vegard said as he walked right into the fender. He hadn’t even slowed down. The key dropped out of his hand as he fell backwards to the ground, letting loose a short whimper as he hit. Dublin helped him up, found the key and put everybody inside. He ducked under the frame of the car and sat in the driver’s seat, looking over the dials and running his hand over the smooth gear shift. David was up front with him and began giving him commands.

“Now put your put on the foot. Put your foot on the floor. On that pedal. No! The other one! Good. Turn the key, heavy! Good.” The car lurched forward three feet, and the engine jerked as it shut off. “No. Do it all over again, but don’t put your foot anywhere but on that fucking pedal. Don’t take it off.” David waved his left hand in the air, gesturing the instructions for operating a motor vehicle, while his other hand gently pushed around the glass of gin he’d brought with him. Sunlight broke brilliantly through his window. The shadows from the hotel’s palms glanced off the windshield.

“Good. Now you will make one pedal go up and make the other one go down. With your feet. Right down, left up. At the same time. The trick, which no one knows in this idiot world, is to do it very, very slow. Then you can feel what you’re fucking up and change it before you fuck it up. So do it slowly.” Dublin did it slowly while David tried to show him with his two hands how one pedal pushes in while the other one lifts up, one hand in a pedal shape, the other in a gin-holding shape. Dublin moved the car forward a couple of feet and then pressed on the brake. “OK. That was good to keep under the speed limit there. Now drive the car this time. Let’s go. Every time the engine gets angry, push in that pedal-” he waved his hand toward the floor under Dublin’s feet, “and move the stick into gear and go again. And when you stop, hold in that pedal I told you about. Now let’s go. Allons-y, Landlord.”

Dublin made his way to the edge of the parking lot in first gear, hard packed dirt and sweaty chrome cars inching away behind him. Traffic was light this far east of town, but Dublin waited to turn onto the highway much longer than he should have.

“Is it Wednesday yet? I think it is. I wish I had a calendar in the car, so I knew how long this was taking. Come, Landlord, conquer this car!” David crescendoed out his window. Dublin moved the car forward and to the left. He turned ninety degrees and began hatching a plot to upshift, but failed miserably for about twenty seconds. He held in the clutch the whole time. The car slowed to about five miles per hour. African drivers passed him on the left and the right as he alternately slammed and caressed the gearshift in the direction of second. He locked it into gear at last, smiled, and then frowned as the engine already growled at him. Again. As he tried for third, he looked to the coast and watched the palms sway around in place. As beautiful as they were, they would never drive an automatic, he thought. What an odd thought, he thought. I need to straighten out my mind and drink less, he thought. Ah, third. David squawked out his window at nothing, a scavenger without carrion.

 

Gin

In this chapter, Dublin finds himself at a hotel on the beach with the Norwegians.

They are drinking gin with lobsters.

Gin

Dublin stopped daydreaming and looked around. Reality wasn’t what it used to be. He couldn’t remember where he was.  He felt the wind, cool and salty. Ah, the beach. Vegard was walking up to him with a tray of drinks.

“More fucking gin!” he grinned. Dublin looked down at the glass table and saw seven empty glasses in front of him. Oops. Peering through one of the glasses were two little eyes, on two little stalks, connected to a gray lobster. Dublin and the lobster stared at each other. He rubbed his eyes, and when he looked down again, there was just a tail reclining in butter. Lobster and gin; where the hell was he?

Vegard had started on his drink. Ice cubes melted away into the gin. The ocean lay out in front of him like a big blue long-sleeved shirt. Peace.

Dublin picked up his glass, and he felt the ice bump into his half-numb lips. Wow. This was a whole new kind of drunk. He looked up again and saw David walking up in swim trunks, looking red and sweaty.

“God, I need a fucking drink.” He grabbed Vegard’s glass and sucked the rest of it down in three seconds. Vegard was lying on his arms, which were splayed out in front of him. “There aren’t any whores worth a damn out here. I thought this was a classy hotel.” He tried the glass again, but it was empty.

All around them, airy palms danced a few yards apart from each other. There were quite a few people on the beach, but no one else joined them on the bar patio. Mercifully, no soukous music blasted into the air from ancient speakers, no high-strung guitar riffs speeding their way into Dublin’s ears.

“Where are we?” Dublin asked David.

“Sarakawa. Supposed to be the best fucking hotel on Lomé beach. But no good women. And these drinks are expensive. I’m going to panic.” Vegard moaned a little into his nest of arms. Suddenly Dublin noticed they were sitting on a revolving patio.

“Wait. That’s silly,” he said out loud.

“What?” David asked him.

“What?” Dublin said.

“I said what you say friend.”

“Oh.” He thought about it. “I don’t remember.”

“What about you?” David asked him.

“What? What about me?”

“How come you have no girl? You need a girl.”

Dublin tapped out one of his beloved Royals. “Oh, I don’t know. There’s not a lot around. In its time, I suppose. In its time.”

“That’s bullshit. You’re a beautiful boy, Landlord.” Dublin lit his cigarette.

“Well, they say when you stop looking, she comes to you. She shows up.”

“Nope. You have to go get her. A woman is not like a comet. You don’t get married by looking up and saying, ‘Oh, there’s a fucking comet. Now I have a wife.’ You need to go up to her and say she’s pretty, and take her home, and then if she likes you, you get married after. That’s how you do it.”

“Well, how do you go up to a girl, then? What do you say?”

“Come to Norway and I’ll show you. I know what to say. I tell you right now, Landlord, if you say this line to any woman in Norway she will go with you to hotel.”

“What line?”

“If you don’t go to bed with me, I will steal a submarine from Italy and fire a missile from it into France. Do you want to know how to say it in Norwegian?”

“Maybe later.”

David and Dublin walked down to the beach and left Vegard to dry out a bit. The beach at the Sarakawa resort was clear of tar, soccer fields and excrement, refreshingly. But it was dirty in another way. Several men on the beach were tourists from Europe, German men and Scandinavian men, rich men. Old men, with old heads patched with old hair and sun spots. They wore thick gold rings on their fingers and large brown sunglasses. Some of them stretched plum-colored bikinis around their chubby hips and buttocks. Seated next to them were black women with large, extravagant hairstyles. The men smiled at the women, and the women smiled back at them. Their smiles were built from tar and soccer fields and excrement, barely there.

Dublin didn’t think too highly of David and Vegard when they went whoring, but there was something different with these tourists. For one, they were physically disgusting examples of mankind. But mostly, it was a matter of attitude, for the two Norwegians made no bones about being drunks and tricks. They were quite content in their deviancy, though forever exhausted. Our bodies tell us everything we need to know, and the mind makes up the rest. That was how it was with the European sugar daddies; they were liars, keepers of pretense. They were kings without crowns or courts. In whatever way the mind recognizes such things, there were clues that they worked against whatever it is that humanity is pressing for. After all, Dublin had an ear pressed to the floor of the universe. And it sang to him in whispers: “Don’t worry. Keep humble and act when I show you it’s time.” And, he guessed, “don’t keep with prostitutes.” Why else do some people campaign for cultural changes that bear no direct benefit to them? Why do men sometimes march with women for equal rights? Because it’s not really taking anything away from them, and they know it. Benevolence to some equals benevolence to all, unless you’re talking economics. It’s the trickle-down theory of spirituality. I hope it works.

Dublin’s meaning of life had something to do with physics, he remembered that much. Perhaps it was related to one of Newton’s laws: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. By giving away our most precious emotional possessions, we make room for the entwining spirit’s most precious wisdoms. Dublin was thinking that very thought, when a dreaded man walked by with a little mono radio playing a Bob Marley song. The walking man was singing along: “There is one mystery I just can’t express. How can you give your more to receive your less?” Dublin put two and two together, the song and his meditation, and he got very excited.

“Do you have any paper, David?”

“What?”

“Any paper. Do you have any paper, and a pen?”

“Jesus fucking no! I’m wearing a Speedo! Wait, maybe I left my paper in the ocean. Let me check.” He got up and ran headlong into great crashing waves and got lost in them for several moments. Dublin sat there for a minute, looking at him. Then he got up and headed back to the patio bar. Vegard was alert, upright, and talking to two young Togolese girls.

“Hey, look at these girls. They live here. Isn’t that nice?” Vegard said to Dublin as he walked by. Clink! went his gin and ice cubes.

Dublin mumbled bonjour to them and walked into the main bar to look for things to write with. The bartender wore a red vest and glasses and looked very sharp. There were glass bowls filled with ice cubes and fruits de la mer. He was somewhat afraid of the man in the red vest, that he would say something to him about not belonging here. He looked over at the desk; there didn’t seem to be any paper or pens. Glancing back at the red vest man, he turned around and walked back out to the patio without saying anything.

 

Landlord (part 2)

In this chapter, the Norwegians continue their conversation at Dublin’s house over vodka.

 

Landlord (part 2)

“David, haven’t you ever wanted to come home to a beautiful woman you love deeply and hold her close to you as you watch the moon pass with a glass of wine in your hand?”

“Are you one of those homosexuals? That sounds like something nice men-loving architects do. Women are only good for a few moments. Keep them around, and they either lie to you or nag at you. It’s not worth the screwing.”

“So you’ve never seen a movie or read a book about true love and thought you might want something like that? A woman who loves you and you see it in her eyes? Doesn’t sound appealing?”

“Doesn’t sound possible. That’s why them make movies about it, to show you what it would be like. These men who make the movies have trouble at home and fantasize on the screen to escape the hell of their own lives.”

“And there it is,” Vegard said.

Dublin peered at David. “Pour me a drink,” he said after a moment.

“That I can do.” David shook the bottle in front of him, but only a few lonely drops danced at the bottom. He mourned its passing for a moment. With the other open bottle, he poured a drink for Dublin that could have knocked him out for surgery. Dublin took a small sip, and his eyes watered.

“I understand what you mean, Dublin.” Vegard leaned back in his chair. “I was in love once, and it was everything I ever wanted. It was just like the movies. We met and our eyes told each other our wedding vows in that first instant. It was a wonderful feeling. David has never experienced it, and he may never, but it exists, nonetheless.”

“See! You should listen to your brother, David.”

“He’s not my brother. If he was, he’d be fat and bald and terrible with money.”

“Maybe that’s why you’ve never had true love.”

“I’m already sick of talking about it.”

“Vegard, whatever happened with that girl?”

“Life stepped in like it always does. We fought a little bit, but not much. She kept in contact with an old boyfriend, and left me for him finally.”

“Wow. Just because you fought some?”

“I thought about that. We fought, but we always made up. I was good at it. A little present, good communication. All couples fight, so it wasn’t that that led her away from me. She never stopped telling me we would someday be married, but made plans with another man all the time. When she finally told me about him, I tried to understand and listen to her and talk to her about it without becoming too emotional. I thought she had changed her mind, but one day she left and never came back. It’s not my fault, but I should’ve been a little harder on her maybe.”

“You should have punched her in the mouth,” David said and belched. “Show her what happens to liars and thieves. I knew this woman, Dublin. She was beautiful, and everyone who saw these two together wanted to be them. Except me, of course. We were so sure of how real she was, and we thought they were the perfect couple. Then she destroyed his heart. I never understood it, but if I ever see her, I’ll be sure to beat the truth out of her.” Vegard shook his head, but smiled.

“So what do you think of marriage now?” Dublin asked Vegard.

“It’s OK. Maybe it can happen someday. Unlike David, I don’t really believe in rules. When I met her, I was surprised at how wonderful it was. I thought it could never happen. When she left, I was surprised. I never thought that could happen either. So, how can anyone know what’s next? I will marry a girl, I think. In the meantime, I don’t give a shit about it. If she finds me, fine. We will do it. I won’t waste any time dreaming about love like I used to.”

“Well, I know I’m going to get married someday. I’ve always known. Beautiful and independent, completely in love with me, unwilling to put up with any of my bullshit. She must be elegant and irreverent. As sexy in sweat pants as an evening gown. You know, puts out the fine crystal for company and farts in bed after they leave. We giggle about it.” The stars swung far above Dublin’s head, which spun with them. “You know? It’ll happen.”

David started to say something, but Vegard interrupted. “Dublin. You need to think about yourself. You need to make yourself happy first.” He stood up. “If someone else makes you happy, too, that’s great.” He sat back down. “But maybe it won’t happen. Think about it. You are, really, sincerely, all you’ve got.”

David’s head dropped to the table, shaking the glasses.

“Yeah, but…”

“There’s nothing else to add. That’s it. You. So, have a drink. Save the world. Fuck your wife. Write a book. But always write the dedication to yourself.” He leaned back and looked up. They sat without talking for a few minutes. Dublin held his glass in his hand, cold and covered in condensation. His neighbors turned on their television.

Vegard looked over at David. “Let’s put him to bed. We’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I’ve got my first day of school tomorrow. I have to get up at five. What are you guys doing?”

“Taking you out for lobster.”

 

Landlord (part 1)

 

In this chapter, the Norwegians show up unexpectedly at Dublin’s house in Togo and ask if they can stay for a couple weeks. They give him money for 4 bottles of vodka to get them through the night.

Vegard sitting up; David in the Ramones shirt

Landlord

The two doors of Dublin’s metal gate gonged together in pain. They had been struck, and Dublin scurried to the edge of his rooftop patio to get a glimpse of what could only be attackers. His eyes took a moment to focus on the gate, moving first through his neighbors walking up and down the street, then to the leaves of his fruit tree, through shadows of hanging clothes and broken bottle wall tops, until they finally rested upon the front bumper of a Peugeot 504 snuggling up to the gate. It strained against itself, futilely trying to convince the tires to move the car and the car to move the gate. Dublin figured they had hoped to open it with the car without having to get out and do it themselves. A broken gate leads to a broken friendship, so Dublin hurried down to let them in before they pissed him off.

David leaned out the window. “God damn, college boy! If you knew we were coming, you think you would have been ready! Now I have a dent in my lovely French piece of shit car!”

Dublin smiled. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Of course you did. I sent you mental signals through a rum haze two nights ago from Ghana. You should have received them yesterday.”

“The alcohol slows them down,” Vegard explained.

“I’m sure it’s my fault. I’ll let you in.” They backed up and Dublin swung open the gates and moved aside. David pulled the car in and bumped up against the fruit tree.

“Damn! This beast won’t respond. What kind of vodka do you have?”

“French. It’s in the freezer.”

“That’ll never do. Here’s a million francs. Go find some things to stock us up. We’re here for at least two weeks. Two at the most. We have things to do before Norway cruelly calls us back to what everybody else does.” He handed Dublin money.

“What are you going to do until I get back?”

“Shower, of course. I suspect you have facilities befitting a white man here. Then I’ll wait on the sofa for you to bring me drinks.” Dublin stood there for a second before walking through the gate to run his errand. “Hurry back now!” David called out to him.

 

—–

 

The sun fell slowly, melting below rooftop clotheslines as the three men talked over glasses of vodka. Dublin had brought back four bottles, one of which sat between the two Norwegians anxiously, its entire life flashing before its eyes. The end was near.

The conversation had gotten sloshy. Vegard was trying to convince Dublin and David that he’d been attacked by a lion in South Africa and survived by kissing it on the nose.

“Was this a boy lion or a woman lion?” David asked him.

“It was a girl. Big mane. Big mane.”

“Hah! Boy lions don’t have girls!”

“What?”

“Girl boys have names…boy lions…girl lions don’t have manes!”

“Of course not! Why would you think such a thing?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember. Let’s have a drink.” Dublin shook his head. “Drink, Landlord, feel better!” David raised his glass and belched.

“Landlord?”

“We call you Landlord now because we stay with you,” Vegard explained.

“As a sign of dignity and respect befitting a white man in these parts,” David continued.

“Does that mean you’re going to pay rent?”

The two Norwegians looked at each other. “Well, no, not cash. But you will drink on the credit card. And hookers.”

Dublin filled his glass. “I don’t think hookers are necessary.”

“Why? Hookers are good for you!”

“I disagree.”

David looked to Vegard in mock surprise. “He disagrees! I honestly don’t know how you could have anything against prostitution.”

“What about its effect on women?” Dublin asked.

“What do you mean? Women don’t go to hookers.” David leaned forward for a bottle and shook his head, mumbling to himself and then chuckling. The other two just watched. Finally he looked up. “What?”

 

Continued in Part 2

 

Read an Interview about Long Pants Under a Hot Sun by S.C. Barrus

Fellow writer S.C. Barrus has posted an interview of me discussing my novel Long Pants Under a Hot Sun. Read the interview at www.awayandaway.com/the-story-from-africa/ and check out his writing and interests on the rest of his site.

Death by Flying Truck

In this chapter, Dublin and the Norwegians witness a terrible accident in Ouagadougou.

Death by Flying Truck

On their last day in Ouagadougou, Dublin, David and Vegard decided to go for a walk downtown. FESPACO had ended in the morning with a ceremony celebrating the filmmakers, and the streets were crowded by tens of thousands of tourists buying trinkets and T-shirts before leaving the city. The three travelers pushed their way through threads of human beings that weaved a basket of enormous clamor. They all felt a strand of euphoria whenever the lines moved a few good feet. Dublin’s legs felt very far away from him.

“Fuck this,” David muttered. He put his bald, sweaty head down and pushed harder against the people in front of him. They made their way past astonished whites and begrudgingly passive blacks and found themselves at last on a street with a greatly diminished population. Vegard spit on his hands and rubbed them together. Dublin looked down and noticed that he now had new palm prints of dust and saliva. They swirled in the currents of world travel. Good for passports, perhaps.

“I could eat all the food in Africa!” David screamed at the sky.

“What would that amount to? A half a plate of rice and a dead rat?” Vegard joked. Dublin shook his head. He wanted to be at a football game, cold under a blanket, maybe a freezing mist coming down from the Midwestern sky, fans of one team staring at fans of the other team across the field. Shaking bleachers and cheerleader splits and coming back to consciousness when a big play erupts with people shouting–

“Holy shit!” David screamed at the same time the sound of catastrophic tires reflected off the downtown store fronts. Dublin whipped his head around just in time to see a light blue Dodge pickup spinning like a Detroit football over the crossroads they had just passed. Time was so surprised that three seconds took twice as long to pass as usual. The pickup came down at last on top of people walking through a display of bicycles and slid several feet through the plate glass window in the storefront. It was a strange and exciting moment, to realize they had just seen many people die at once, perhaps squeezing a bike tire or pressing a hand brake as the shroud fell over them. Time tried to get all the noises of the accident to stop at once but had a hard time handling them. Within moments, two hundred people had constricted the accident scene.

“Are they helping, or looting, or what?” Dublin asked without really listening for an answer. None was given. It was the same reaction from all Africans when an important event happened. If someone was accused of pick pocketing, if there was an accident, if someone was hurt, if there was shouting or humiliation or celebration, the hordes descended. Dublin saw it time and time again over the next few months, but this was the first time.

“Well, about thirty people just walked off a cliff,” David said flatly.

“They didn’t walk. They were pushed,” Vegard responded. Dublin looked from one to the other to the crowd and back. He could still hear metal against concrete and bone. His ears felt uneasy. Dublin lost his hearing for a moment as they got themselves together again.

“Do we really need to stay and watch this?” Dublin asked.

“Of course. We must see this so we can learn what there is in the world. There is death, Dublin, and you mustn’t ever forget it.”

“But he doesn’t need to obsess about it like you do,” Vegard reprimanded his friend.

“Obsess? Obsess? I am anything but obsessive, brother! Obsess, he says!” He turned to Dublin. “In our short time together, little boy, would you admit to finding me obsessive?”

“Certainly not.”

“There you have it!” He faced the intersection of hundreds, now a crossroads of living people keenly interested in dead people. “I, do you hear me all? I am anything but obsessive!”

“It is plain to see,” Vegard mumbled. David harrumphed. They stared a little bit longer.

“Well, shall we get back to the hotel?” Dublin asked. They nodded. From their spot on the sidewalk, the crowd was one mass of dusty interlopers into the contract of death, like two hundred lawyers swarming around a celebrity annulment. It had just happened, and the families of the victims had no clue anything had changed in their lives. They went about their business preparing dinner and going on walks and sleeping with the peace of “Everything’s OK”, the dreadful stretch of hours between death and knowing about death. Only God could truly observe, and it’s hard to imagine what emotions were his companions. A sad but old story of life at its end.

The heels of Dublin’s sneakers marked the sidewalk as they finally turned away from the accident that scuffed his consciousness. He didn’t forget it for days, and out of everything that happened that week in Burkina Faso, it’s the one moment he took away and preserved. It was a short video he liked to play in the theater of his memory whenever he felt tempted to take life at its best for granted.

Morbid, perhaps, but probably another step closer to making an effort at humility.

The Great White Hunter

In this chapter, Dublin meets a man known as the Great White Hunter, who has some advice about the meaning of life.

———————

Dublin found himself, once again, at the bar.

Shocker.

Sick of Burkina’s beer, he had found a little bar around the corner from the hotel and ordered a whiskey. If he’d gone back to his room, David and Vegard would’ve stopped him and made him drink, and he needed a break from those two. He had started feeling a little clingy. Or they had.

The bar was packed with a mishmash of native and expatriate drunks. FESPACO had reeled in all the suffering artistic trotting whites and market-chewing bottom-feeding black tradesmen in Africa. His hand wrapped around a cold Star, Dublin searched for any open seat in the bar. He saw a man sitting alone at a small table and decided to approach him. He gestured with his beer at the gentleman draped in crushed khaki, who was staring into a tall glass of water standing next to a bottle of Lion Killer lemonade, oblivious to the chicken coop around him.

“Yes, you can sit here.”

“You speak English?”

“Of course. I’m German. You did win the war, you know.”

“So?”

The German smiled through a grunt. “Have a seat.” Dublin pulled back the spare wooden chair and sat down.

“Did you come for the film festival?” Dublin asked. The man studied him for a moment.

“Look under the table.” Dublin raised his eyebrows. The man gestured with his hands. Dublin bent down and peered under the table and saw the man gripping a huge rifle between his legs. Dark things wrapped around Dublin’s throat and feet. He sat back up. “Don’t worry. I’m not a violent man. My name is Arn. They call me the Great White Hunter. I am staying in Burkina Faso until I find a good place to hunt. You’re not frightened, are you?”

“No, hell no.” A long drink of beer. “That’s a big gun.”

“The biggest. When you’re the best in the business, you must have the right tools. I have a reputation to keep, you know.”

“The Great White Hunter.”

“Exactly. People usually ask me next, ‘Where did you get such a name?’, and I truly don’t remember. But they know me all over this continent. I started to hunt in South America when I was fourteen, but I have not been there in some time. The Africans respect me, fear me, welcome me. I have no home, but every home with candles and rice is mine.” He laughed. “Are you still frightened?”

“No.” A girl walked by selling packets of koliko, and Dublin bought two of them. He had forgotten to eat again. “So you have no family? You just hunt?” he asked, unwrapping one of the packages.

“I have no family. I hunt. I am whole.”

“But that’s all you do? I mean, there’s nothing else for you in life? Haven’t you ever wanted to do anything else?”

“I used to be a Zen Buddhist, you know.”

“Would you like some of these fries?”

“I only eat meat.”

“Oh, you’re a vege- Wait. Come again?”

“I only eat meat. No other food, be it grain or fruit, milk or root, has passed these lips once in the last thirty-seven years. If they made beer from meat, I’d drink it.”

“So, do you, like, only eat what you kill?”

“Of course not. I try to kill everyday, but it isn’t possible. I won’t buy one of those filthy market steaks, nonetheless. I look for Germans, the monks of sausage,” he said, lighting a cigar.

“Wow.”

“My father thinks it is a disgrace, being half German, for me to not drink beer. But I think it is a disgrace for him to consume wheat. After all, what would you rather look at, a long beautiful field of wheat, or a shit-eating cow? We should eat animals because they are ugly and we don’t need them around, but leave the grains and the vegetables alone, the fruit trees. What is the worth of this world without its natural beauty?”

Dublin held up his finger for another beer. “Tell me about Zen.”

“I was completely captured by Zen for two years. I thought perhaps I could even add to the library of Buddhist knowledge. I had an inspiration, colored in mathematics: if focusing on one means canceling everything but the one, then focusing twice as hard on one results in canceling everything. The equation reads:

 

if f (one) = c (everything – one),

then f 2(one) = c (everything)

 

“You see? True nothingness. Zen,” the Hunter finished.

“So Zen means nothing?”

“I like your double entendre. Zen, my friend, is simply a way of doing things that makes life easy. Suppose, for instance, your mind considers four thousand events and textual calculations every day. The Zen Buddhist encounters only a quarter of these. The remaining thousand thoughts are like the wind in July: felt, but hardly strong enough to blow you back.”

“Wow.”

“How so?”

“Well, it sounds good. I highly consider it, I mean, I consider it highly likely that meditation is a part of the process leading us to fulfillment.” Beer rushed in with the tides.

“Zen and fulfillment are retarded lovers.”

“Ah.”

“You’re drunk, and so you won’t understand what I mean, or you will, but forget. In any case, none of us have all the answers. Zen lets go of wanting, yet enlightenment is attained. I wonder when all the bullshit of meaning will stop.”

“Perhaps someone has come up with the one true meaning of life.”

“Such a person does not yet exist.”

“Why not?”

“I would have heard something by now.”

“What if it just happened?”

“Impossible.”

“Suppose that person were here among us.”

“Not likely.”

“Well, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose someone has discovered the true, eternal meaning of life. Perfection in existence. How would that person go about spreading the word?”

“Assuming this was the answer for everyone?”

“Yes.”

The Great White Hunter thought for a minute. “He would go about his life the same way he always had. Teaching the True Answer destroys it. What does the Meaning embrace?”

“Quantum physics and the relationship between the soul and the universe.”

“Then I recommend staying away from scientists and Buddhists. You should, rather that person should walk down the path of their life blindfolded, trusting that once given the Answer, the universe will deliver them to the proper place on time. Something perfect cannot stay in one vessel; it will overflow and get other people wet. If you offer people a drink from the vessel, they will not take it, for they cannot see what is inside.”

Dublin did not look up from the table.

“Politicians know this. They only offer people the water they already have, because you cannot give what is not yours to begin with. Politicians have more wisdom than anybody, but they have no knowledge.”

“How can they have wisdom without knowledge?”

“Because wisdom means knowing things from experience. They know the game of politics because they have played it. They know history because they have studied it. But they don’t know how to interact with history, what meaning it has for the present, and they don’t know how to get things done, because they have no knowledge. They are stupid, peculiar, full of potential yet amazingly inept citizens.”

“Oh.”

“You see, only men of fear run for office. That’s why it’s called running. I will myself to hunt every day of my life, for surely I would become a czar or tyrant otherwise and ruin millions of lives. It’s the way we are built. Perhaps, someday, the people will successfully elect…a nice guy. That would turn the world on its heel, but I shall never hear of such a thing in my lifetime. Most don’t see it yet, but everything is changing, young man. Some people in the world are sick and tired of being run around, and they have been backed into their last corner. Isn’t it odd that snakes and bees only strike when aggravated, and that is what the big countries of the world do to the little ones. It’s arrogance, your America.” He took a very long pull from his thin cigar. “Nobody likes to get stung.”

“Does that mean you’re a man of fear?”

“Of course not. But that is only because I am not in an office charged with the caretaking of millions of souls. Should I be in such a position, I would exploit it.”

“How do you know?”

“It is the kind of man I am. There are two kinds of people in this world, young man. The normal and the special. I am the normal.” He took another pull from the cigar. “You, I expect, are the special.” The smoke came out. “You’re soft, trusting, wondering, looking, peace-making. You would never fire a gun at an animal, because you would never have a gun in your hand with animals all around you. It is not a problem. The normal exist in the majority, and we run the world and do all the things in it. The special are very few, very rare, and they think all the time. Perhaps someday you will have thought enough to come up with something to help better the normal. It happens from time to time. Perhaps not in this lifetime. But it happens.”

“You have to imagine, then, that there are two ruling powers, and that one of them is set over the intellectual world, the other over the visible. I say not heaven, should you think that I am playing upon the name. Do you have this distinction of the visible and intelligible fixed in your mind?”

“That’s Socrates you’re quoting.”

“Yep. Do you believe in reincarnation?”

“I myself am very new. This is my second or third time. Do you have a suspicion about yourself?”

“Well, no. I haven’t thought about it, really.”

“Think about it.”

He did.

“It feels like…”

“Yes?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I guess I just have this feeling like I’ve been around for a very, very long time.”

The Hunter blew out the last of the smoke from his cigar. “You see? You are the special.” Dublin smiled and took a very long drink from his beer. “And now I must take my leave. The animals are coming out of hiding, thinking I’ve gone and gotten drunk all day and forgotten about them.” He pushed himself up from his chair with his hands on the table. “Good luck, uh, I never asked for your name.” Dublin was in the middle of the last drink from his beer. “Don’t bother. Good luck, Great White Thinker.” He nodded and walked away, sighing at the pain in his knees. Later that week, he was killed and eaten by a man who had lost his mind and believed his destiny was to eradicate Caucasian races from the continent. The cannibal was known in rural villages as the Great White-Hunter. He ate the organs of his victims and left the rest on the ground in a heap. With his last few breaths, the Hunter thought about the life he had had and what the next one would be like.

 

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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