Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Vernon Mooers writes

chapter 19 (3)

Four months later Alex had a driver take him over through Cameroon to Stirling Estalda's camp in Gabon to check on salvaging some parts for their heavy equipment. It was a hard two day drive but they made it. The company was still working on a road there and a new asphalt plant had been build at the site now. The road he'd helped survey was now starting to be paved, but even that would take another year or two to complete.

He went into the town, was able to locate Falmata, the woman he'd had live in his house at one time. She had finished her schooling at the Teacher's College and was teaching in a local school. She was happy to see him, that he had returned. Africans had no sense of time.

He stayed at the site a week, long enough to decide he needed a woman, that he would be comfortable enough if Falmata would come to Nigeria with him, stay with him as before. It would be easy enough. West Africans needed no passport to travel across their borders, just to go outside = to Europe. And he could probably buy her a Nigerian one for her. Falmata could most likely get a job teaching in one of the local schools.

She packed out. He had Mala stop the Land Cruiser in town to pick her up on the way out. The driver frowned but he accepted it.  She was not one of his tribe, was nothing to him and so he had no say in it. She could be his secretary for all anyone knew and sat in the back with him. At the border, he told the Custom's people they were all employees of Stirling Estalda and were waved right through.

They travelled two days through the mountains, but it was not a problem. They had jerry tins of petrol and water in the back and only slept one night outside, close together on mats beside a fire. Mala kept the fire going and stayed awake. He kept a machete handy and it was his job to make sure no snakes or jackals got near them. Mala would sleep when they stopped to avoid the afternoon heat. But it went without incident and there were few armed robbers in the North anyway, especially in the mountains. Urban people were afraid to operate in the rural areas in the mountains, afraid of the tribes. But it was safe for white people. The mountain tribes had only seen doctors and missionaries, Batures who had come to help them. They came off the track  through the mountains at Biu and headed onto the paved highway.

Once back in Hadeja, Alex put Falmata in the Rest House and then rented a house for her in the town. It would not be good to have her stay at the camp, but it was all right in the town because many non-locals worked at the hospital or for Stirling Estalda or at the schools. The economy still surpassed that of their neighbours in West Africa, all from the oil money, and there were lots of foreign workers, cheap labour from bordering countries, educated contract workers.

It was easy. Falmata just took her papers to the Local Government and was given a job in the primary school where they were always short of teachers. It didn't pay much -- educated Nigerians had more lucrative tasks to embark upon, other interests, making more money running businesses or in other civil service positions. Falmata was secure. Alex was not far away and she had no real worries if they were late paying her. She seemed happy enough and he was content to work and not be alone. Again, Alex had a job to do, someone to take care of, things to give his life meaning.

In the afternoons, they did not press their work overtime and Alex would clean up, sleep for a couple of hours and in the evening, drive to Hadeja and go to Falmata's house. Off to the side of her front yard, under a niim tree, Muslim students who did not attend the government schools, religiously copied the Koran in Arabic onto carved wooden boards, memorizing it all day long. But after evening prayers, they and their teachers always left that place and were already gone into the town. Falmata marked exercise books while Alex grabbed a Star and sat in the back compound to relax, trying to pick constellations from the mass of stars scattered across the night sky. Falmata was respected in the town, a teacher, and the Stirling Estalda truck was often parked out front. Few people outside of friends who worked in the bank or teachers at the other schools ever dropped by so the evenings were quiet, the towns people going about their own business.

Alex had brought a video machine over to her house. There was poor TV reception in the North, but most wealthy Alhaji's had a video. Alex usually brought tapes from the camp, mostly Italian films, and sometimes borrowed some from Alhaji Bama who had Indian and Chinese movies and sometimes occasionally bought British or American ones if he went to London.

Alex and Falmata might watch a video or just cook supper and talk. Life wasn't so bad there. He worked hard and had somewhere pleasant to go after, where a good woman waited, some place quiet to hide, an oasis set apart from the rest of Africa.

He watched Falmata through the glass door, dedicated, going through the stack of exercise books and waited for her to finish, wishing he had been as serious in his stint teaching, lasting only three years at it. He liked seeing the product of his work, building something. With a road, you could at least see the result of your effort.

Alex had brought okra and plantain and yams at the market on the way in, and put them in the kitchen for her. She would cook after. He could have easily eaten in the camp and sometimes he did, but usually he preferred to wait and have supper with her.

After dinner they went to the bedroom and put the fan on, lay down on the bed inside the mosquito net, and made love. Her body was smooth, warm from perspiration and she snuggled beside him. He felt needed. He had it made. Savoured the feeling. Like this, he could stay endless, happy in this corner he'd carved out of Africa, out of the hostile world.

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