James carried Helen inside and laid
her on the couch in the living room; Lucy and Annie watched,
"Wave some brandy under her nose,"
James picked one of the abandoned
bottles off the floor and pulled out the cork. He held the open
top next to Helen's face, feeling faintly ridiculous. Helen's
"Hot sweet tea," Said Julie and scuttled
off to the kitchen.
"Sorry," She mumbled, "Didn't mean
to make a fool of myself."
"You didn't," James told her.
"I saw your visitors," Helen tried
to sit up, but collapsed back against the arm of the couch,
"I thought they didn't look like the sort of guests you'd want
to have in your home."
"They weren't," Said Lucy solemnly,
"They spoiled my birthday."
"They made mummy cold," Said Annie,
"She was shivering in the kitchen."
Julie reappeared with a steaming cup
"Six spoons of sugar," She said,
"Drink it up."
Helen grasped the cup in shaking hands.
"Six spoons?" The cup clattered against
Helen’s' trembling teeth as she tried to smile,
"Bang goes my diet."
Gradually, Helen began to relax.
"It was all I could think of,"
She explained, "Tom's out this evening with the Resident Rep, and
I could hardly turn up at your door on my own brandishing sticks
"The lanterns were far more effective,"
"I made them for the BWA fete,"
Helen eyed her creations as they lay grinning emptily in the corner
of the room, "Never thought they'd really come in useful."
James thoughts were far away.
"I promised Lucy a pumpkin for her
birthday once," He said quietly, almost to himself, "Long ago."
Helen yawned, suddenly very tired.
"That's nice," She mumbled.
The cup in Helen's hand slid gently
from her slackening grasp and, with an almost inaudible thud,
dropped on to the carpetted floor. Within seconds, she was asleep.
Annie eyed the slumbering form.
"Is it time for bed for us as well?"
"Yes," Said Julie, "I think it is."
Lucy and Annie trailed reluctantly
towards their bedroom; at the door, Lucy turned.
"Daddy?" She asked, "Do you think
Mrs. Edwards was brave?"
"Yes," Said James, "Very."
"Gbandulo wants to meet me?"
Charles' voice, heavy with incredulity,
rumbled out of the gloom of the tiny hut in Pelepah village.
"He thinks I might be OK?" The uncertainty
in Charles' voice was tinged with a hint of pride.
"That's what he said."
Charles scratched his head. Behind
him, almost invisible at the back of the hut, Aloysius clucked
and fidgetted anxiously.
"And you think I'd be safe?" Charles
James inclined his head thoughtfully.
"Gbandulo relies on us and he's making
huge money out of us. It's difficult to see him killing the goose
that lays his golden eggs."
Charles scratched at his beard, one
eye on his dusty plastic sandals.
"Dammit," He muttered, tugging at
his grey, tattered vest, "Me seeing Gbandulo like this,"
He sucked dismissively through his teeth, "A houseboy and a driver
carving up the country."
"No, Charles," James warned, "You
don't see Gbandulo dressed like that. You dress the way you did
for Nagbeh, only smarter. The PEC don't look like houseboys any
They sat in James' car, as far from
the Ministry of Agriculture as they could get without losing
sight. Charles sucked impatiently through his teeth.
"What time we supposed to be meeting
"Huh," Charles grunted," It's eleven
already and the guy ain't even showed up for the office yet."
"Learning how to behave like a Minister
Charles was silent for a few minutes,
"What kind of car you said he drove?"
"Lincoln Continental," Said James,
"Light blue: metallic."
Charles sucked quietly through his
"Last year it was a garbage truck."
James looked sideways at his partner.
The hollowed cheeks had filled out and were once again clean-shaven.
From somewhere the tortoiseshell shades had been dug out and
dusted down. Charles had sweet-talked a village maiden into washing
his old emerald green suit on a rock in the Pelepah river. Afterwards,
she'd spent hours tenderly pressing it with an ancient, wrist-breaking
flat iron. From a drab, mud-caked chrysallis had re-emerged the
Charles Nyamplu of yesteryear, eyes sparkling, hair freshly washed
and combed, bristling with bounce, ready to do business.
"Hey, James, look."
James' gaze swivelled to where Charles
was staring up the street.
An immense limousine, glittering powder-blue
paintwork, silver-bronze tinted windows, gold leather-look roof,
and radiator grill like a miniature Parthenon slid silently up
to the front entrance of the ministry. On every wheel, like chromium-plated
souvenirs from Boadicea's chariot, silvery blades of steel scythed
outwards from hub to gleaming whitewalled tyre.
"Yeeeaahh," Breathed Charles, "Nice
A rear door opened and Sunday Gbandulo
stepped out onto the pavement. Gold buckles on blue and white
patent leather shoes twinkled in the sunlight; lapels on a sky-blue,
double-breasted jacket reached halfway to its shoulders and considerably
past those of its owner; the ruffles on the front of the colour-coordinated,
sky-blue shirt were topped by a chin-high collar on which the
minister's jaw rested with considerable discomfort. Charles watched,
fascinated, as Gbandulo let go of the car door handle and teetered
unsteadily towards the ministry building on top of five-inch
stacked heels not quite concealed beneath the twenty-five inch
bell bottoms of powder blue trousers.
"Dammit," Charles breathed again,
"Nice threads, man."
The meeting with Gbandulo went extraordinarily
well. James eyed his partner appreciatively.
'A fish back in water,’ He thought,
and smiled bleakly as Charles and Gbandulo collapsed in thigh-slapping
hilarity over some unfathomable Ngombian joke. Any minute now,
he thought, they'll be going off for a drink together.
"Dammit, Nyamplu," The minister wiped
tears of merriment from his eyes, "What you say to a drink?"
"Mr Minister," Charles deep, resonant
voice filled the room, "You're on, man."
The two Ngombians wandered off down
the corridor, Gbandulo's sky-blue arm resting comfortably on
Charles' emerald green shoulder.
It occurred to James that, once again,
this was one of those moments when the presence of a white partner
was not required. He walked back to his car; he would see Charles
"Oh, Damn and blast!"
George Wainwright swore and switched
off the beam. The ancient Bell and Howell 16mm film projector
clattered to a halt, masticating celluloid slivers of Her Majesty's
Coronation noisily between still churning sprockets.
In the darkness by the door, Jonathan
Swift leapt dutifully to his feet and pressed the wall switch.
The Residency drawing room flooded into life, its occupants blinking
and raising hands protectively over wincing eyes. Behind them,
the ambassador began poking around with vague hopefulness in
the innards of the recalcitrant apparatus.
"Just in time," Tom Edwards sighed
with relief and lifted a glass of half-melted ice cubes off the
floor by his chair, "Tide's gone right out. Last month had to
sit right through the whole bally thing without a break."
"Top up, Tom?"
Aquamarine and dangerously decollete,
armed with a silver salver of tinkling drinks, Annabel Wainwright
bubbled chirpily between the rows of guests, disbursing good
cheer and refills with irrepressible effervescence.
"My goodness," Annabel leant forward
and peered over the rim of Tom's glass, "You're quite dry."
Annabel's gravity-defying superstructure
wobbled precariously; Tom’s eyebrows quivered, spaniel-like.
"Mustn't let that happen again, must
we?" Annabel sank easily to her knees and lifted two full glasses
from her tray onto the carpet beneath Tom's chair. Tom's spectacles
slid forlornly to the tip of his nose, hopelessly misted.
"There," She rose to her feet, radiating
satisfaction, "I've left you a spare, just in case."
Head bowed, Tom sat silently polishing
his steam-fogged glasses with a crumpled, grey-white handkerchief.
Next to him, pink as ever, Helen Edwards shimmered and simmered
as the eyes of every man who dared followed the wriggling progress
of the ambassador's wife's deliciously plump rear as it and its
owner bustled happily around the room.
"James," Tom stuffed his handkerchief
into his trouser pocket and slid his glasses back onto his nose,
"You know this Gbandulo fellow, don't you?"
"Sunday Gbandulo? The Minister of
"That's the one," Tom leant down beside
his chair to hoist up one of his two freshly-filled tumblers,
"What's he like to deal with?"
James thought for a moment.
"Not much to say, really," He said
carefully, "He's dealt with us on a number of occasions. I don't
think anyone would accuse him of being overburdened by formal
education, but he's always been cooperative. Seems to be in favour
with the president, which helps."
"Mmm," Tom sipped comfortingly at
his ice-cold gin and tonic, "That's what I thought."
James was curious.
"Why do you ask?"
"Just wondered," Said Tom, slightly
too casually, "Our Resident Rep had an interesting meeting with
President Livingston the other day."
"There may be nothing in it," Tom
shrugged, "But Livingston had an interesting idea that makes
An agitated rasping sound came from
the back of the room as the ambassador scraped busily at the
newly trimmed ends of film in his splicer.
"What's the President got in mind?"
"Livingston's concerned that the Ministry
of Lands and Mines has been dormant since Climax pulled out.
He sees it as enormously wasteful to have an entire ministry
hanging around doing nothing, particularly in view of the critical
shortage of indigenous skills since the coup."
"Does he have any suggestions?"
"Two things, really. One is to amalgamate
the Ministry of Lands and Mines with the Ministry of Agriculture;
call it the Ministry of Natural Resources, or something like
"And the other?"
"He'd like to see Gbang mine re-opened."
"Gbang? Re-opened? When?"
"A ceremonial signing to coincide
with the OAU summit would be nice."
"Iron ore and Timber and Agriculture,"
Mused James, half to himself, "That's effectively Ngombia's entire
"Not quite," Murmured Tom.
"Not quite?" Queried James, "What
else is there?"
"Diamonds," He said quietly.
"Diamonds?" James was staggered,
"Up in the north west corner,"
Tom waved his drink vaguely above his shoulder, "Near the border."
"How do you know?"
"When we had that very dry spell a
couple of years back," He replied, "You remember all those water
"The St Luke almost dried up,"
Tom recounted, "Villagers fishing in rock pools way up-country
found dozens of the things in the gravel on the bed of the river,"
He took a generous swig from his glass, "Stones that size don’t
get carried long distances, so the pipe can’t be far away.
If it’s the right side of the border, Ngombia could be a
very wealthy country indeed."
He paused, not entirely steady on
"State secret," Tom winked heavily
and tapped the side of his nose, "Not supposed to tell anyone."
"And all of this would come under
the control of one ministry?"
"That seems to be the general idea."
"Any thoughts as to who would be running
"Oh, yes," Tom gave the ice cubes
in his glass a determined swirl with his forefinger, "Livingston
was quite clear on that; he wants Sunday Gbandulo."
There was a clang from behind them
as the ambassador slammed shut the door of the projector.
"Fixed it," George Wainwright bellowed
triumphantly, "Ready to roll. Lights please, Jonathan."
For once, James had no difficulty
arranging a courtesy call to the president’s office. He
found Stanley Livingston was looking immensely pleased with himself,
and was waved into one of the two massive leather chairs in front
of the vast mahogany desk.
"Your expatriate cocktail parties
are such an effective way of passing on gossip, don’t you
James blinked, lost for words; he
couldn't quite believe that Tom had simply been an unwitting
"Tell me, Mr Davidson," Livingston
faced James across the leather-topped desk, "Would you be able
to identify suitable candidates to negotiate for the Gbang concession?"
The question caught James completely
"You really do want to re-open Gbang?"
"And place Mines and Agriculture under
a single ministry?"
"It would make sense."
"With Minister Gbandulo as its head?"
"And now you'd like us to identify
possible contenders for the Gbang mine concession?"
"That is what I said," Livingston
spread his hands expressively, "Your company has proven trustworthy
and reliable in the past; you are accustomed to dealing with
this government; you are well-financed."
Without thinking, James leant forward.
"And an appropriately funded diamond
concession, Mr President?" He asked, "Is that to also be included?"
The world went silent. With sudden,
terrible clarity, James realised that Tom had told him too much.
He sat, waiting, unable to move, unable to think of anything
Livingston lowered his hands on to
the desk and clasped them carefully in front of him. Suddenly,
unexpectedly, he smiled.
"Why not, Mr Davidson?" He murmured
softly, "Why not?"
Why not indeed.
James sat silent, overwhelmed.
This wasn't Tudor mansions, country
estates and Tatler. This was private Caribbean islands, ocean-going
yachts, Liechtenstein chateaux.
James felt Livingston waiting, watching
A nation's entire resources,
All that wealth.
All that power.
He rose, and held out his hand to
Ngombia's new President.
To James' baffled amazement, Julie
didn't even want to listen.
"But," James was trying very hard
to be patient, "Don't you see what this means? This country's
entire natural resources: everything it has." He paused for breath, "Livingston
is offering to share all of Ngombia with us."
Julie stared at him, stricken.
"All of Ngombia," Her voice trembled,
"There is no all of Ngombia any more; the country's in ruins and
it's you and your lot that are to blame."
James was flabbergasted.
"That's ridiculous," He protested,
"How can you possibly say that?"
"Easily," Julie was quietly angry,
"So easily. Remember the riots that started all this? And remember
why they happened?" She paused briefly, then pressed on, not waiting
for an answer, "Because the last president raised rice prices so
the poor couldn't afford to eat."
"You can hardly blame me for that,"
"Oh, yes, I can," Julie assured him, "You
and I both know why he raised rice prices."
"Of course we do," James felt his
feet touch firmer ground, "To allow country farmers to be able
to sell their rice at a profit: nothing wrong in that."
"Oh, come on," Julie’s voice
was contemptuous, "None of you gave a damn about country farmers:
you wanted the Farm to Market scheme to work because you knew
you'd make a fortune if it did."
"So, we made a profit," James shrugged,
"But thousands of subsistence farmers throughout the country also
got a chance to better their standard of living. What's so terrible
"James," Julie stared straight at
him, unblinking, "You know as well as I do that not a single
farmer is one Nomba better-off. There is no Farm to Market project.
All that's happened is that roads everywhere around the city
have been bulldozed into a maze of mad Cresta runs with PRC trucks
and pickups screaming around them," She dropped her gaze, then
added quietly, almost to herself, "And God help anyone who happens
to be in their way."
"And all of that is my fault?"
Julie looked up at him.
"Try putting it the other way round,
James. If you hadn't got involved, would any of this have happened?"
But James had stopped listening: he’d
seen his vision and was not about to let it slip from his grasp.
That night, James dreamt. He dreamt
of themselves; on a cruise ship full of bright lights and activity,
Julie vibrant with excitement and anticipation. Suddenly, in
the middle of their journey, the scene changed. But, this time,
James knew exactly who he was and where he was going.
He stood on the bridge, captain of
all he surveyed, and watched as a lifeboat was lowered seawards:
it was empty, save for Julie. She sat, alone and frightened,
her eyes pleading silently with him to come with her; but he
wouldn't; the pull of the ship's bright lights and the excitement
of the journey were too strong.
He watched from the ship's bridge
as the boat was cast off and drifted away. He saw her raise a
tiny sail and try to follow; but she could not possibly keep
up as his ship surged on, unheeding, confident of its unknown
destination. He watched as Julie fell further and further astern
until, eventually, in the distance, he saw her give up and lower
her sail. He could hardly see her but, far away as she was, he
knew she was crying. She sat, very small, utterly alone, gazing
after his ship until it was lost to view.