James found a furnished house on
Banda Avenue, just a couple of blocks from the main road out
"It's not as nice as our real home,"
Lucy glared at the white bungalow with its flaking paintwork and
"It's got a lovely big verandah,"
Julie tried to be loyally cheerful, "We'd to be able to sit out
in the evening; or have breakfast there on weekends."
They went inside, wandering disconsolately
from room to lifeless room.
"It doesn't have any big toy cupboards
like home does." Annie clutched her ageing and well-worn elephant
"The kitchen's next to the dining
room," Said Julie helpfully, "No corridor, just a swing door;
that should make dinners easier."
Puddle sniffed suspiciously at a very
large, very dead spider crumpled crisply on the floor under the
kitchen table. The husk of an equally ancient cockroach lay on
its back in the dusty bottom of the sink.
"It does seem a little bit gloomy
inside," Julie confided in James' ear, "And it smells a bit damp.
Do you think it's just the rainy season?"
James' shoulders drooped dispiritedly;
he wondered if he was making a terrible mistake.
George Sanders let James have the
use of Moses the chief gardener and the maintenance pickup all
weekend to shift their belongings across town.
"Where on earth did it all come from?" Julie
gazed at the mountain of personal possessions crammed in to the
back of the truck.
"Years of being a family," Said James.
He was amazed at how quickly their
old home had become just a place where they once lived. He checked
through each of the rooms, searching for any items they might
have overlooked. It all felt incredibly forlorn.
He locked the front door and walked
down the steps.
"Here, Moses," James handed the key
through the window of the pickup, "Please give this to Mr. Sanders."
"Yeah, boss." Moses grinned and rattled
off up the drive, his precious cargo swaying alarmingly. James
opened the doors of his car.
"Come on, folks," He beckoned them,
"Time to go."
They swept up the gravel driveway,
Lucy and Annie kneeling on the back seat, Puddle between them,
staring out of the rear window.
Julie sat quietly, too upset to say
"It's me, Helen; I saw your car. What
are you up to in our neck of the woods?"
Immaculate pink trouser suit, pearl-pink
nails flashing in the afternoon sun, makeup still fresh and unmuddied
by sweat, Helen stood at the kitchen door, bristling with hair
lacquer and curiosity.
"Come in, Helen," Julie rubbed the
palms of her filthy hands on her filthy jeans, "We're unpacking."
"Oooh," Helen’s appraising eyes
traversed the empty shelves, the half-unpacked crates on the
floor, the crockery and kitchenware stacked on top of the table, "Are
you moving in?"
"That's right," Julie lifted a pile
of plates off the table.
"Why?" Helen slid into one of the
kitchen chairs; her fingers trailed along the table top, "Has
James lost his job with M&M?" She inspected the grime on
"No," Julie lowered herself onto one
knee and pushed the plates into a floor-level cupboard,
"He's starting his own business."
"I think he felt," Julie climbed back
up off the floor, wiping her grime-covered hands on her jeans
again, "That he wanted an achievement in his life."
"Any idea which box the bedclothes
got packed in?" James's voice preceded him into the kitchen,
"Oh," He said as he rounded the door.
"James," Julie pushed back a stray
strand of hair with a dust-caked hand; a large brown smudge appeared
on her forehead, "Helen came to say hallo."
"Hallo Helen," James tried unsuccessfully
to conceal the non-enthusiasm in his voice, "How nice to see
Helen nodded brief acknowledgement
from her chair beside the kitchen table. James surveyed the scene.
"Cup of tea?" He suggested.
"Thank you James," Helen dug herself
in behind the parapet of unpacked crockery, "That would be very
nice of you."
At least, thought James, there was
now no need for them to send out change-of-address notices.
Charles and James decided to call
themselves AAA Inc.
"That way we get to be on page one
of every directory."
"What's it stand for?"
"It's an adaptable name."
They found themselves an office of
ample space and remarkably low cost.
"Why's it so cheap, Charles?"
"Nobody told the guy who built it
that the water table is just below the surface. It floods every
"So how do we keep the water out?"
"The doorways have high thresholds."
Tuehville Central Bank served as Ngombia's
principal bank for the simple reason that it was also the country's
only bank, and it was there that Charles and James presented
the Mayor's order together with their supplier's quotation.
The Manager for Foreign Transactions
eyed the documentation without enthusiasm.
"Your supplier requires a confirmed irrevocable
letter of credit," He observed, "That means that it is this bank
that would have the ultimate obligation to pay your supplier."
"But we'll be paying you," Said James, "As
soon as the mayor pays us."
The official smiled patiently, patronisingly.
Unctuous servility and supercilious condescension oozed from
every oily pore, and his lank, straightened black hair clung
limply to his grease-filmed forehead. He looked as if he should
dwell in dark places. 'Dipstick', James decided he would call
the man: he didn't trust him an inch.
"Mr. Davidson," Explained Dipstick,
"We have much experience of Government payment procedures. They
are not always entirely straightforward."
James knew that.
"Mr Davidson, what would happen if
the payment to you were delayed, or if there were some dispute
and the payment were never made?" Dipstick spread his hands expressively, "Such
things do happen."
James knew that too.
"Perhaps," Dipstick offered solicitously,
"You could persuade the mayor to open his own L/C?"
"Letter of Credit? Nah," Charles intervened, "The
government hardly ever opens L/C's. If the mayor did that, he'd
raise every eyebrow in the country."
"Then," Dipstick was firm, "We should
need sufficient collateral from yourselves to cover the full
amount: just in case things should go wrong."
James turned and whispered to Charles.
"You feel like putting your house
on the line for the mayor?"
"Uh, uh; no way man," Charles didn't
like the idea at all, "I worked hard for my home. I ain't about
to lose it."
So near yet so far. They had the order,
but couldn't accept it because the government was a lousy credit
"WAWA," James muttered despondently
as they headed for the exit.
"The hell with WAWA," Charles stomped
off towards his car, "You only get one crack at an OAU in a lifetime,
and I ain't about to let no WAWA business mess me up."
"Where are you off to, Charles?"
"I'm off," He called over his shoulder,
"For a drink and a think."
"A think about what?"
"About how we can do business with no money."
"That's easy," Said James dejectedly,
"Bullshit, man," Charles pronounced
over the roof of his car, "All we need is customers who pay cash
"Oh, hah, very funny," Said James
bitterly, "You know they never do; that’s impossible."
"Ain't no impossible in Ngombia,"
Said Charles easily, "Just needs sufficient inducement."
"Yeah," Charles opened the door of
his car, ready to go, "You know what I mean."
"Yes, Charles," James sighed, "I know
exactly what you mean; I also know that, right now, we don't
even have enough to induce a barman to sell us a beer."
James went home, more depressed than
at any time in his life. Julie took one look at his dejected
form, and decided not to say that she'd told him so.