THE WHITE MAN'S GRAVEYARDchapter 20 (1)
It was the first week of February by this time, the middle of the hot season. The sand of Harmattan had cleared but the train ride was still dusty. During the afternoons, temperatures reaching 120 degrees were not uncommon. Alex opened his eyes. It was getting light now. The sun was up before they got to Kano and he knew it was time to get ready. He took a sip of the water from the plastic jug, put some on his hands and wiped his face. He left the rest for Falmata. He gently shook her. She woke. He pointed outside and moved the shutter of the window.
The train rattled on through the countryside. He knew there was at least one more stop before Kano, in the mud house area on the outskirts of the city. After that, if they were lucky, they could jump off behind the central Hotel while the train switched tracks to go in the rail yard. It was better that way, to avoid the crowded station and the pushing to get off and the long walk along the platform. They'd still have three hours before ten o'clock and there were washrooms they could use in the hotel and have breakfast if the restaurant was open. Nobody would say anything because he was white, and it was also pretty easy to get a taxi in front of the hotel.
The train shuttled to a stop in the mud house area, a village on the edge of the city. The passengers would pray there and get back on. It would take ten minutes for morning prayers so he got the stuff together, putting the flashlight and the water back in the bag and shaking off the wrapper and folding it. Falmata was fixing her hair. It never ceased to amaze him how she could keep so clean on a lorry or train ride. He always felt grungy and dirty. She tied her hair back, using her compact. Alex felt sorry for her -- trying to look her best amidst all this.
The train was moving out now. Latecomers were jumping back on and laughing. He had long ago noticed they were always in better spirits after praying. "It must be like meditation," he surmised.
They rolled past the compounds now, the suburban houses and the new but rapidly decaying apartment buildings. The cement walls of the Government Residence Area compounds whizzed past. He caught the tree-lined streets and the Peugeots flashing by. A turbaned Tuareg sat behind a house, not blinking as the train went by. He would be sitting perfectly still, his sword beside him, scanning the area like radar with peripheral sweeping eyes, watching and listening for any sign of movement. That was why Alex didn't want to live in Kano. There were always robbers to worry about.
They were in the middle of the city now, starting to slow down. Soon they would be at the crossing.
"Come on," he said, "if we get off here it's better." He swung the bag, the tartan one he'd bought in England, over his shoulder. They left the compartment for the door, waiting by the smelly toilet, the door of which was missing a latch, and wasn't really a washroom for there was never water, soap, paper towels or toilet tissue in it.
The train jerked to a stop at the crossing. Alex jumped and put the bag on the ground. "Hurry," he said. They'd only have a few seconds.
"Do you want me to have an accident now?" she glared back. He climbed back up and eased her down so they made it without a fall. He knew she was right. She was straightening her dress and the train pulled away.
He looked around. It was a long walk around to the street and to the hotel which was in front of them. There was just the wall. He walked over to see if there was a place to cross it. He'd never gone in the back way. There was a worker in a green uniform there. He gestured to a place where the bank came almost to the top of the wall. He went back for Falmata and they went to try it. He jumped over and caught her off the wall.
"How can we get in?" he asked the man, putting 20 kobo in his hand and smiling. The man led them past a rack of bicycles and opened a door in the high wire fence.
"Na gode," he said and they passed through to the parking lot.
"That was easy," Alex said. They were near the lobby entrance now where the cars pulled up to load and unload baggage. The bell-hops stood around, dressed colourfully in their bright red uniforms and white sashes.
They walked through the lobby and turned right toward the washrooms, past the newsstand which hadn't opened yet. She went in hers, he in the other. There he could use the toilet and wash his face and hands and freshen up from the dust and sweat. They were on familiar ground. Nobody would look twice.
They waited on the enclosed patio at a table, under a curved overhang beside the fountain and flowers. It was really quite nice there, especially when the world of traffic and noise and dust outside seemed not to exist any more. The coffee shop would open at eight. They waited.
As soon as the shop opened they went inside. A complete breakfast was only three naira, a deal. That included a large pot of coffee. He went to the buffet and filled his plate with scrambled eggs and toast and took a large juice. He set them on the table.
"What would you like?"
"Cereal. And toast. And bring juice."
"O.K. Order a pot of coffee for me."
He brought them back and he devoured the eggs and toast. Falmata ate the cereal and nibbled on the toast.
"How do you feel?"
She was already five months pregnant. The train ride had been a nightmare of rattling and shaking as usual.
"We should be there by nine o'clock," he said.
"Have you got the forms?"
"In my bag. Bukar said to get there early. He'd have everything arranged."
He had gotten the application forms from Bukar last trip and paid him half the fifty naira fee to do the paperwork. Another expatriate couple from Kaduna, friends of Steve's in Biu, had gone through the same procedure and Bukar had been the contact. Now, it was arranged. He'd finally decided to do it. He'd written a letter to the embassy. They said the child would have the father's citizenship automatically and they would recognize a civil marriage done by a magistrate if she wanted to apply for entry or immigration later.
Time was running out though. He'd spent the last few months arguing about the medical aspects of the pregnancy. They'd had to make several trips to the clinic. Soon, she wouldn't be feeling like travelling any more. It had to be done quickly so he could make arrangements for where the child would be born. She would start to be distracted from all those arrangements soon.
They got a taxi out to the municipal offices. Marriages were on Fridays -- it was all arranged. Their names were set for this day.
At the compound he shook Bukar's hand and smiled. "This is Madam," he said. Bukar took the application forms and left. A few minutes later he returned and told them to follow him.