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Chapter 11

Two weeks had shot by. The hotel was dirty, the mattress sank inwards, the air-conditioning dead, the cockroaches unafraid and I liked it. It felt real. I had no idea where John was or in fact who he was. I thought I’d seen him a hundred times but with 5 million inhabitants, what was the chance? I spent the days wandering around the areas that seemed familiar to me but Luanda had changed since I was last there. The built-up high rise multi-million dollar, luxury apartments renting at $10,000 a month and hamburgers at $30, cash rich ex-pats and the Elite few dining on $100 steaks supping $200 red Riocha whilst 80% of the country lived in total starvation in shanty towns and slums, lucky to find work at less than $3 a day. Poverty was unremitting inside and outside of Luanda, running water and electricity, a pipe dream for most but new Luanda neighbourhoods showed off their newly found wealth. Angola had struck black gold and it had become one of the biggest oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa lining the pockets of the very few. The corrupt officials raking in the cash and living the high life, eating in restaurants, shitting on close-coupled imported toilets, wiping their arses with quilted Kleenex toilet paper, brushing their teeth with Colgate toothpaste in running fresh water flowing out of Hans Grohe taps, sitting on their balconies, enjoying the view and looking down on the filthy poor. Almost thirty years of war, half a million dead and this is what it had come to but surely not for much longer.

I searched the internet cafes and the bars on the wrong side of town and I wandered across beaches and fishing villages and I asked everywhere for John and in every place John came out with beaming smile. I met hundreds of Johns but not my John. Life expectancy for male Angolans was 50. What did I expect? One of these days, I sat in a bar on a beach and there was a young girl who came to sit with me.

“I heard that there is a white man looking for John? What does this white man want?”

“This white man wants to talk to him but why does this John think that he is the John the white man wants to see?”

“Because he has been waiting for him. Will you come with me?”

I followed the tiny girl dressed in pink, hair brushed and plaited at the side, smiling and shy, seemingly no more than six years old but I assumed, a malnourished eleven years old. Could this be his daughter? When I met him, he was a boy, so I remembered. I knew that I had found my John but I wasn’t sure what to feel or what to expect. Was this really the end of my journey? I followed her across the road, brushing grassland, over shrubland, along dirt tracks, down alleys spewing tin huts, spaghetti wires twisted in every direction across and through and up and over, open sewage flowing and dirty children playing and dogs running, sniffing, mating and barking, past glaring men, threatening men, inquisitive women, provocative women and finally to a small shack where the little girl disappeared through the bright green wooden front door and holding his hand tight, emerged triumphant and proudly presented her father. I knew this was my John even though I did not recognise one part of him.

“Please come in to my home. Welcome.”

He said something to the little girl, Camila. It was an order of sorts, gentle but not to be disobeyed. She was putting together some food and drink in my honour and this was an honour, for looking around, I could see that John had nothing. She smiled, this delicate little woman, so elegant and respectful as she placed a makeshift tray on a little box table in front of us. I was unable to resist her charm. I took her hand and kissed it as I thanked her. Despite her acute embarrassment, she was honoured that the white guest from America had done such a demeaning thing. Her father told her to go. I wandered what sort of life she was destined for. Married at 13 to a brutal drunk, raising children with no hope in a slum, no holiday, no shopping, no manicures, no spas, no coffee mornings, no gym, no pampering and I thought of Jazzy and Gallie and how I wished that they could be here with me and perhaps then they might respect what I had done. I could see Jazzy, sitting here on her phone, head down, manically typing to one of her groups on a social app that she was in a filthy, dirty place with poor people and that she couldn’t wait to get back to civilization. I heard Gallie asking lots of questions with a concern but a white, American concern and underneath simply wanting to wash it all off in a nice scented bath, sipping a glass of Dom Perignon back in the 5 star hotel. How would tiny Camila react in our house? John beckoned me to eat. Palm oil beans and some raw vegetables with white bread and a bottle of beer to share. I poured some beer into a plastic cup.

“John, do you remember me?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember what we did?”

“Yes.”

“Do you still have the papers?”

“Yes.”

“Can I see them?”

“No.”

“Is there a reason I cannot see them?”

“Yes.”

“And what is that reason.”

“I do not have them.”

“Where are they?”

“With the British Embassy.”

“What? Why are they there? John please this is important.”

“I took them there.”

“Why? When?”

“A few weeks ago.”

“Why did you do that?”

“I am poor but I am not stupid. We are poor but we are not stupid. We see. We have television and we see DRI. We have hope for our grandchildren. We talk. America is at war with Iran. America, China, Russia are not honest. So I took the papers to the British embassy.”

“What did they say?”

“Thank you. We will contact you.”

“That’s it. Have you heard anything?”

“No.”

“Will you come with me to get them back?”

“Yes.”

“Can we go now?”

“Yes.”

He stood up immediately and walked straight out the door. I followed this thin man along the same route as I had come. It would appear that he was an important man for he commanded a respect on the street. The men were no longer aggressive, the women not provocative, the children had gone and the dogs were quiet. I wandered what had he done to have this position of power and I wandered how far his power extended. As soon as we left the village, his power simply vanished and he became just another poor and unimportant Angolan man. We took a bus and soon arrived outside the British Embassy, soldiers posted at the entrance, standing self-importantly as only the British know how to do, a remnant from grander days of the great British Empire, unable to accept that Britain was no longer of any significance. I showed the guard my US passport and asked to see the ambassador.

“Have you an appointment Mr Hoff?”

“No we have not but would you please tell him that we have come to pick up documents left here a few weeks ago by this gentleman, John Angola. Documents relating to DRI. I think he will know what we’re talking about.”

“Wait a minute please sir…………The Ambassador will see you. Chas take these gentlemen through but first they must leave their passports in the office. Take them straight to the office.”

“Good afternoon gentlemen, I am Gareth Johnston-Smith, the UK ambassador to Angola. I understand that you John, may I call you John, wish to reclaim your documents relating to DRI?”

“Yes sir.”

“Well, I’m afraid that they must remain with the UK government for the moment. As I am sure you are aware, they could be of international significance. They are being analysed at this moment for verification that they are genuine. You must understand the seriousness of this claim.”

“Excuse me Mr Johnston.”

“Johnston-Smith.”

“Yes I’m sure. I am Goris Hoff from the USA. You may recall the photograph, a white gentleman beside John?”

“I do.”

“That was me. I am the founder of DRI. I registered the domain name in his name for the sake of anonymity.”

“I see Mr Hoff. That’s quite a claim. Have you spoken to anyone about this?”

“No. I was afraid to come forward and I did not want the publicity but I cannot stand by and watch a war against Iran based on lies.”

“These are major claims you are making Mr Hoff. Can you wait here a minute please?”

“I do not trust him. You can see in his eyes and his haircut.”

“I think you’re right John. Maybe we should leave.”

“I’m sorry sir but the Ambassador asked that you remain here. Can I get you a tea perhaps? No you’re not being held. You are free to leave but not just yet. The Ambassador is taking advice. Shortly.”

“We’re not being held but we can’t go, is that right?”

“Yes Mr Hoff. You’re free to go but not quite yet.”

“They are keeping us here. I don’t like this. The British are the worst. They do everything politely.”

“Right gentlemen, please follow me.”

“Where are we going?”

“To the interview room.”

“Good afternoon Mr Hoff and Mr Angola. We are agents of the British government. We have been asked to investigate your claims. As a matter of national and international importance, we can hold you without charge indefinitely shall we say. Now this is a secure room. What you say here is absolutely private. First we are going to interview you, Mr Angola. Please take Mr Hoff out.”

“I will not go. I want to see the US Ambassador.”

“Of course. Please show him out.”

“Ok Mr Angola. That’s quite a name you have. We have your details. We know where you live and what you do. We know that your wife died and you have one daughter aged 12. You claim to have founded DRI?”

“Yes sir. I founded it. It is in my name as you have seen.”

“Why is Mr Hoff in your picture then?”

“He was with me. He paid for it but it was my idea. Mr Hoff told me that it was my idea. He said that I had created something important, a voice. I remember.”

“And what happened after that? How did it grow?”

“I don’t know. It grew. It just grew.”

“But you did nothing to help it grow?”

“No but it was my idea.”

“Corporal, bring Mr Hoff here in fifteen minutes exactly while I finish up.”

“Why are we being held against our will? I insist on seeing the US Ambassador.”

“Mr Hoff, if you insist that you are the creator of DRI, you are safer here. I wouldn’t recommend confessing to the US. We are civilised. Now, please tell me what you know about DRI.”

“Look I was the founder of an internet site and I sold out. I live in LA.”

“Mr Hoff we have your profile. Wife Gallie. Daughter Jasmine. You live in Palm Drive. You have no suspicious history but you have no motive for your claim. You’re not the usual profile. We are only interested in your connection with DRI. You could be in serious trouble. I suggest that you co-operate fully.”

“I have nothing to hide. I came to Angola seven years ago where I met John. I became friendly with him and we talked and he inspired the idea of DRI. I paid for the name but I did not want any publicity. I had enough publicity when I sold my business. I then paid for the development and promotion of DRI and that’s it.”

“So your first visit to Angola was a holiday? Unusual place for a holiday. Not exactly Ibiza.”

“In a way. It’s a long story. I came to see the real world and that’s when I decided to try to make a real difference. That’s how I had the idea.”

“John said he had the idea.”

“No he inspired the idea.”

“And apart from a photograph and a receipt, what else do you have?”

“Nothing. I told you I didn’t want publicity. I didn’t want a link to me so I hid all the payments. I invested millions of dollars but I can’t prove it and I don’t want to.”

“Mr Hoff, you claim to have invested a lot of money but you have no evidence of this. Surely nobody could hide that amount of money. There must be some paperwork, a trail somewhere. Your accountant must know something. Your bank?”

“No. Nobody knew. I had cash. I took cash to India and China and wherever necessary.”

“But cash must be accounted for?”

“Yes that is true but all that will prove is that I withdrew large amounts of cash. Everybody knows that I like to gamble. I covered my tracks.”

“You would have met people you employed who can verify this.”

“I deposited cash in deposit boxes. I never met a single person apart from John.”

“Even if I wanted to believe you Mr Hoff, the whole thing is too incredible. Does anybody know anything, your wife, friends?”

“My wife doesn’t believe me either and my friend, not sure.”

“Even your wife doesn’t believe then how do you expect us?”

“I don’t but I am telling the truth. I will take a lie detector.”

“We don’t do such things. I‘m not sure how we can progress this even if we wanted to and quite frankly I somehow think that we won’t want. You can’t prove a thing. However, the fact remains that a photo and a receipt do exist. I’m going to suggest that you remain in Luanda for now. We’d like to hold on to your passport, if you don’t mind? May I also suggest that you refrain from going to the US embassy for now? They don’t always react as rationally as we Brits, shall we say.”

“Actually I’d rather take my passport, if you don’t mind?”

“Actually we do. We will be in touch. Thank you for your time. Corporal, show them out.”

They led us out. The Ambassador had disappeared down the corridor. My first instinct was to go straight over to the US embassy but the British Ambassador’s advice was likely correct. As irrational as it seemed, I felt safer with the British. Something about the accent made you feel safe.

“John are you ok? I can’t believe that. I should go to the US embassy but I won’t. What did they say to you?”

“They asked me the same questions like last time. They told me to stay in Luanda. Where will I go? They asked me if I was sure you were the man in the photo and I said no. They said that everybody wanted the man in the photo and that it was safer to tell them. They said they could protect me and the man in the picture. I asked him, ‘protect from what?’ and they answered, ‘everybody.’ They said that I could be in serious trouble and I asked them for what and they said for being part of DRI. I said that I only had the idea. They asked what I know about you and I said nothing. They asked if I knew you were a rich man and I said no. They said I could go and they will be in touch.”

I shook hands with John and I told him that I would come to see him. I stopped a taxi and went back to the hotel. I sat in the lobby, a dark area with three old wooden chairs, a table and some old American magazines, ordered a cold beer and sat under the struggling ceiling fan. I slept alone and ate alone and walked alone for the next few days. I was waiting - waiting to decide what to do next, waiting for the British Embassy, waiting to be picked up by the US or the Chinese or whoever had unravelled the puzzle, waiting for something to happen. I needed to talk to someone and so naturally I called Steve.

“Steve, it’s me. Yes I’m ok. I’m still in Luanda. Listen. I found John.”

“That’s great Goris, really. What you going to do? And? What now?”

“He’d already been to the British Embassy and handed in the photo and the receipt. The one I showed you. The one I burnt of him and me. So I went with him to get it and they interrogated us and took my passport.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know but they told me not to leave and suggested I didn’t go to the US embassy and I think they’re right. I somehow feel safer with the Brits, fair play and all that”

“Goris have you been watching the news? Have you been watching the war? Have you seen how many dead? It’s shocking. There’s rioting everywhere against the war, accusing the US of fabricating evidence. DRI is going mental, calling for everyone to be forcibly resigned and executed and they’re putting the politicians on that list on trial. They’ve added the president. DRI wants everything speeded up. It’s like a mad dog. Really not the time to own up Goris. I think that you need to get home fast. You’re vulnerable out there. Here you are important. Jesus the Brits know who you are and that means the Americans too.”

“Yes they do but I don’t think the US knows anything. Everyone’s out for themselves. I’m going to go to an internet café and check out DRI. I can’t get home without my passport unless I go to the US embassy and say I lost it.”

“Goris do it. It’s not safe there. The Brits didn’t join the Americans and President Howard is pissed. The media says that the Prime Minister and the President didn’t see eye to eye on Iran. DRI posted private emails between the two of them. Listen to this from the UK Prime Minister, ‘President Howard, the action you have chosen to take is nothing less than immoral. You have fabricated evidence against Iran for reasons of self-interest. You are responsible for the murder of innocent Iranian civilians. I will not be party to this.’ Can you believe that? That’s a real falling out and I’m sure they leaked it themselves.”

“Wow that’s serious. I haven’t heard a thing.”

“Well if the Brits are prepared to fall out with the US then they must have their reasons. It can only be to appease the DRI mob. Think about it. It makes sense. They must think that the President is finished. Almost every world leader is on the list and DRI is in a frenzy. The alliance already lashed out at Iran. What next? I’m telling you Goris, you’re in danger. Even if they don’t know who you are, they’re looking. Everyone knows that the US is obsessed with collecting information and listening. They might be listening to this. I’m serious. They’ve got ways of listening to phone calls and I’m sure when you sold out, you were put on their list. They’ve probably been watching you for years. It’s only a matter of time. Goris, you were the one who told me about the guy who defected. The US tried to gag him. He went to Russia.”

“Yes I know who he is but I never spoke about DRI. I never wrote about it.”

“Goris, the Brits know who you are which means the US knows who you are. Everyone is trying to save themselves and that means they’re all after you. You are valuable. I think that you should go to the British Embassy. You can help them and they can protect you.”

“How exactly?”

“At best you’re an accomplice. At worst you’re a terrorist. If you give yourself in, you stand a better chance of convincing them and if not, they’ll give you to the US and they’ll lock you up and throw away the key. If you don’t give yourself in, someone will kill you anyway, just like John Lennon.”

“You always know how to make me feel good Steve. I assume that if the British believe me, they won’t let me go. No way will they give me up to the US. They could destroy the evidence and release me or use it and me to save their necks. I feel like a sitting duck. The whole thing’s surreal. I did nothing really and look what it caused?”

“Goris, they’re going to come and get you sooner or later. I think you should go back to the British now and demand some sort of protection. You have to be one step ahead. I’m really afraid for you. All hell’s breaking loose out there and you’re drinking beer in the sun oblivious to it all. You’ve seen the movies, something unexpected always happens.”

“It feels that way for sure. I’m looking over my shoulders all the time. I can’t sleep. I know I can’t trust the US but can I trust the Brits? Somehow I doubt it. I’ve dealt with enough English in business and one thing I know is that the only difference between the Brits and the rest of the world is that they’ll fuck you worse but they’ll do it politely. I have to disregard the manners and remember the animal. But I don’t see any other choice.”

“Go and talk to them. Call me. I’m going to call the Embassy so they know that someone knows you’re there. In fact I’m going to call them now to say to expect you. Yes?”

“Ok. Alright I’ll go.”

The rational part of me didn’t believe that anybody was looking for me despite Steve’s hysteria. The emotional part felt different. Steve had planted the fear inside my head and it wouldn’t leave. I went to the British Embassy. They escorted me in and left me alone in a library. The Ambassador walked in holding a file.

“Mr Hoff, you saved us a call. Our boys back home have done a bit of background on you. It seems that you’re quite a successful businessman. It also seems that you are not the man in the picture. We’ve analysed it and it is not you. Granted there are similarities but it just isn’t you. Now your passport is with the US Embassy.”

“Wait a minute. That is me in the picture. I don’t care what your people think. Anyone can see it’s me. I want the photo and the receipt back and why is my passport with the US Embassy?”

“I’m sorry but the file was destroyed in the process. Your passport was sent to the US Embassy for verification. Standard procedure. Thank you for coming today. Good day.”

“Hold on a minute. You’ve destroyed my only evidence. You can’t do that….Take your hands off me…I demand to see……”

They escorted me off the premises and I stood outside. I simply didn’t know which way to turn. The British were lying. They were hiding something. They knew it was me. You didn’t need analysis to see that. What did the US know?

“Steve. I’ve just been kicked out of the British Embassy.”

“I called them and they just kept me waiting. I called back three times. Something’s going on and I don’t like it. Goris you need to get out of there. You’re not safe. The Americans and the Brits are always conniving together. Forget the leak, it’s probably planned. You have to reckon that the US has the photo of you. You’re the proof that they attacked Iran for no reason. They need you out of the picture. I don’t know Goris but you need to get out of Angola.”

“Steve I’m really getting worried. None of it makes sense. Why would the Brits deny me?”

“I don’t know but things are getting worse for sure. The President of Angola and his daughters are on trial now and it doesn’t look good. Did you see that the Russian president’s been exposed on DRI. He’s apparently the richest man in the world. There’s rioting in Moscow. He just filed his tax returns with an income of $150,000. But DRI showed his financial disclosure report and he claims to be worth only $1m. DRI released information on some politician on trial in Nigeria and a mob lynched him. It seems that DRI can’t control DRI. It could end up with military rule everywhere. I can’t see any other way quite honestly. You need to leave now.”

“But how the hell do I get out? I can’t go to the US embassy and they’ve got my passport apparently. The Brits gave it to them.”

“Goris, it’s getting worse. The US knows for sure. They’re probably looking for you right now. I don’t know if it’s safe to enter the US. I doubt you’ll get that far and I wouldn’t take a holiday in Russia or China right now either.”

“Shut up Steve. It’s really not funny. I think I’m going to go to the newspapers. I know the editor of the New York Times. I met him when I sold out.”

“They’re probably listening to your calls Goris. I hadn’t thought of that. It’s not safe for me. Borrow a phone and call me. Smash your cell now. They can track it. No names. Remember the US listens to everything. Ok? You’re the one who told me that the US are watching everyone.”

“Steve, you’re not safe either. And Gallie, Jazzy?”

“I’ll watch them.”

“That’s not helping. I don’t want you watching them. I’m going to call you in one hour. Please get me the private number of Walter Caring. He is the editor of the Times. You have to get through to him. Get me his private line and tell him it must be a secure line. Tell him whatever you want but make sure you get it. Get me a time when I can phone tonight and tell him no names. This is the first time that I really feel afraid Steve.”

“Goris, I’m going to call him right now. What time is it there?”

“It’s 4.15pm.”

“Ok. It’s still early here. Speak later and be careful. Go to an internet café. Call me.”

I went into an internet café. One that I had never been to before. I logged in to DRI. Trials were underway in absentia. The President of Angola and his daughter had been convicted of fraud, corruption and a string of other offences. It was a level 4 sentence – total e-execution. The entire file would be sent to the Angolan police but the likelihood of justice was nil so this was to be a DRI execution. The world’s press had printed various documents and photographs that were used in the trial. The president and his entire family, inner circle and other politicians implicated in their criminal activities were all at risk. In fact the Angolan people wanted blood. The president appeared on tv to ask for calm and telling his people not to react to terrorist lies and propaganda. In the meantime, rumours were rife that he was closing the shutters in his presidential palace, packing up his belongings, taking his cash and running into the arms of one of his corrupt counterparts. The eyes of the world and of DRI were watching and listening closely. The Russian president ousted as the richest man in the world, with share ownerships, Swiss bank accounts, asset lists plastered all over DRI. He was in hiding and Russia had declared a state of emergency with curfews after dark.

Breaking news at CNN:

“President Carlos Pereira of Angola, his wife, Sakura and son Nelson were seen boarding the presidential jet under military escort. It is as yet not known where the president and his family are heading. Speculation is that they will be landing in Russia. The e-trial on e-DRI exposed a litany of corruption and fraud that incited a large number of Angolans to take to the streets, demanding the resignation of the president and equality for all. It would seem that a DRI mob attempted to break down the door to the presidential palace. Police and army stood by and watched. As the crowd banged on the front door, the president and his family left through the back door. Politicians across the world are watching in fear. The question on the mind of politicians across the world - who’s next?”

“Steve, any luck? Great. Thanks. Ok I’ll call him 6pm my time. What did he say? Fine. So he knows nothing but he realised it was something big? Good. Thanks. Talk to you later.”

I withdrew two thousand dollars in Kwanza. I went to see John. I knew the way but with no escort, the walk was entirely different. The eyes were not friendly, the children unwelcoming, the men more aggressive, the women more forthcoming. I knocked on his door and entered.

“John I am in trouble. I need your help. I need to get out of the country. The British Embassy has given my passport to the American Embassy and I do not trust them. They destroyed your photo. I have money and I want a new passport.”

“That will cost a lot of money and do not worry, I have a copy of the photo.”

“I don’t believe it. John you may have saved my life. Can I take a photo of it with my phone?”

“Yes of course. If you want a passport, I will take you to a man I know.”

“Thank you. Yes I want a passport. We can go? Is it far?”

“No he is near. Yes we can go now.”

“John, what do you think of DRI? What do you know about it?”

“It has given us hope. We maybe have no water, no electricity, no drains but we do have internet and television. We have hope for real change. The president today has gone and maybe we will be at war again but better war and death than this. Look around you. We are a rich country and this is how our politicians let us live. You have seen where they live. This terrible place is my village, my home, my people, my family but I am John of DRI.”

“And I am Goris of DRI. You must be careful because they may be looking for you too.”

“I am not afraid. I have many eyes looking after me. Where can I run? If they want me I am here. Now let us sort your passport.”

I followed John to a neighbouring cluster of tin ramshackle houses where its inhabitants seemed to line the alleyways to acknowledge him. It almost appeared that word had spread in advance of his arrival and people had come out to see him and some to touch him. I felt uneasy. We entered a larger house and I followed John through another door and then greetings all around. He spoke to the man in an African language and they laughed and shook hands again. I presumed that they were laughing at me so I laughed too. They looked at me and I stopped. The man wearing glasses gestured me to stand against a white wall and he took a photo. He checked it and nodded. John and he went into another room. They reappeared after 10 minutes. John told me to give him $1000. He handed me a brown envelope. I looked inside and it was a copy of the photograph. I took out my wallet and handed him the $1000. John left and told me to stay. I sat on a stool in the middle of the room. My host had his back to me whilst he was preparing what I assumed to be my new passport. He did not acknowledge me nor did he speak.

“Do you speak English?”

“No.”

“Nothing? You understand?”

“No.”

“How long will it take to do my passport?”

“Yes.”

“How much will it cost? How many dollars?”

“Yes.”

“How much money – passport?”

“Five thousand dollars. You give me one thousand. Four thousand today. Passport finish today.”

“So you do speak English?”

“No. No English.”

“American passport, yes?”

“No.”

“I want US passport.”

“Yes. Not US passport. English passport.”

“But that’s crazy. No good. I want US passport.”

“No. English. Passport good. You want beer? Beer in fridge.”

“You do understand English. I have an American accent. They will be suspicious if I have no US passport.”

“You talk English. English is good. Look I have very good passport. New name, Michael Stanley Gordon. See.”

“Yes it’s me. It doesn’t look right. It’s dirty. It says born in UK.”

“Yes you were born in UK. Dirty is better for customs. You must pay me $4000. The passport is good. It is a real passport but not reported to police. We paid him for the passport $3000. You must pay me. John said you will pay.”

“Ok I will pay but I have no money with me. I need to go to the bank. You can come with me.”

“Yes we will go now.”

I withdrew money on several cards. I paid him. He took the money with his left hand and shook my hand with his right, looked me in the eyes and walked away from me. I wandered about for a while, trying to organise a few conflicting thoughts before deciding where to go and what to do. I went to see John, walking along the now familiar route but still uncomfortable with the reaction of those lining that route but this time, it was different. The children were running behind me screaming with laughter, the women humbled and the men respectful. What had changed? Word must have been transferred at high speed because Camila knew and she walked toward me, smiling and beautiful and took my hand to lead me to her father. John stood in the doorway, his hand stretched out and as we shook each other’s hand, we both smiled in recognition of each other’s momentary importance. He pulled me in and there I was confronted with a room full of men seated and drinking tea, all eyes on me.

“My friends, this man is Goris of DRI, my friend and partner. This is the man in the photo that you all know. This is the man that came to me many years ago. This is the man that made my dream come true, made our dreams possible. When I was a young man with no hope of a future, John came to Angola with the same sense of hopelessness. There was a reason why our paths crossed and I remember the exact moment when we sat drinking tea and I was thinking why has this white man with all the things we dream of, why has this rich white man come here? What right has this man to sit with me? Why is this man from America drinking our tea? I asked him. I told him to go back to America to spend his dollars. And you know what he said?”

“No, tell us please?”

“He said to me that he was ashamed of himself, that he was ashamed of the world. He told me that he cannot go back to America. He said that America was not his home any more. He could not be part of a world with everything while there was a world with nothing. I laughed at him. I said ‘take your white conscience back to America and spend your dollars. You are not welcome here.’ He said he could not. He said that he would not go back. I told him that all white men are the same. They come to our country, feel bad, make promises, go home and break promises. And then he said to me ‘what can I do?’ and I laughed at him. I said ‘there is nothing you can do except listen.’ This was the very moment that he understood that we do not exist. The poor do not exist. Africa does not exist. Our village, our wives and our children do not exist but he promised that he would give me a voice. He promised that he would give us a voice but I thought that this rich white man was mad and I liked this man. I did not believe him but it was not his fault that he was white or that he was American. He was a good man and so we talked and talked. I showed him our village, our city and the poor and the starving and I showed him the sick and the rich. I told him about the corruption. Then we shook hands and he left. He said that he would come back. I knew he would not but I was wrong. A few months later he returned with a document in my name. He had registered a website in my name for some mad reason. I said thank you but I did not know what it meant. E-DRI was registered in my name and so we held this document and smiled for a photograph and this my friends is the man in the photograph.”

All eyes turned to me. An awkward silence bounced off the walls of this tiny, dark room. I understood that nobody was going to speak before me but I had absolutely nothing to say. We stared at each other, twenty pairs of eyes against one, a silent stand-off and I was unable to break the silence. I felt the sweat spreading and my heart racing, desperate for something to break and finally John spoke.

“Goris my friend they are waiting for you.”

I had held meetings with greedy bankers in glass offices, sat around mahogany board tables with arrogant lawyers and ate $500 lunches with vulture run funds and tax dodging accountants but never had I been so nervous and at such a loss for words. I had never been confronted by such a powerful and committed group of shareholders. I had not a clue what to say. I felt panic rip my thought process into a thousand pieces. I fell further and further away from clear thought and far, far from words. I breathed in slowly through my nose filling my lungs with air, holding, holding and then releasing until I could feel my heart beat slowing and panic subsiding. A few eternal seconds later and my tongue found a sentence. Absolutely perfect words.

“Do you have a beer John?”

He looked at me, unsure if I had let him down in front of his disciples but turning to them, he smiled and I felt huge relief when slowly they started to respond in laughter and chatter. A few words here and there and the beer arrived and the atmosphere at once relaxed. I was seated on a stool in the middle of the room surrounded by Angolan men expecting something from me but what had I to give them? I looked at my watch and it was almost six. I needed to call Walter Caring. I took John aside and told him that I needed a phone to call the US but not his phone. I gave him a $100 note to give to the phone owner and a few seconds later, he handed one to me. I hadn’t seen a phone like that for many years. I told John that I would be back.

“Walter, it’s Goris Hoff. Yes I am ok thank you. Is there anyone with you?”

“No. What are you doing in Angola of all places?”

“I need your help but please hear me out first. Of course you’re covering the DRI stuff. Do you have any leads on DRI?”

“Goris, I’m not sure I want to discuss that with you.”

“I give you my word that I have no ulterior motive or at least no motive that can damage you in any way. Look I can prove to you that I founded DRI.”

“Don’t be crazy Goris. We know it’s not the Iranians but it’s not you. A friend in the White House told me personally that they know who’s behind it.”

“And what else did he say?”

“With respect, it’s nothing to do with you.”

“Walter. They’re looking for me. I can prove it and I’m offering to give it to you but I need help from you. I need you to print my story today and I promise I’ll tell you everything.”

“Goris, you’re crazy. Even if I believed you, I’m not sure we could print it. This is national security. Legals won’t let me.”

“Listen carefully Walter. I came to you first because we are friends. I know the editor of the Journa and the Tribune and I am sure that they would jump. I haven’t got time. I am afraid. I am the founder of DRI. I can prove it but you’re going to have to take a risk.”

“Send me what you’ve got and I’ll see. Can I call you?”

“No. I’m going to send it by email and I’ll call you straight back. What’s your email address? Look at the photo carefully and what’s in our hands.”

I ran back into the house and told John that I needed a phone with a camera and internet urgently. Nobody had such a phone but he knew of one man not far. He took another $100 note from me and sent Camila. A few minutes later she returned with a phone and a man. He handed me the phone and I took a picture of the photo and emailed it to Walter’s address that I had written on a piece of dirty paper. I drank my beer, smoked a cigarette, took a deep breath and went outside to call Walter again.

“Walt, did you get it? And?”

“It’s not enough. A photo of you and some black guy holding a receipt for the domain name e-DRI. I saw the date but so what. Granted, it’s strange that you’re in this and the date is before DRI but it doesn’t prove anything. It just shows, assuming it’s real, that there may be a connection with you and DRI.”

“Walter. You need to take a risk. I’m not just a guy off the streets. I am Goris Hoff businessman and internet entrepreneur. Surely that carries some credibility. You know me. I wouldn’t bullshit you. I give you my word that the photo is genuine. Print it and I’ll try to come home and then I’m in your protection. You don’t realize that my life could be in your hands.”

“I can’t take this all in just like that. I need some time to digest it.”

“No. No time. I want your word now or I go elsewhere. I need protection now. This is my only hope. I can’t say for sure but I think everyone is after me.”

“If you believe that then you’re probably safer there.”

“No I don’t think so. It’s on the verge of civil war here and I’d just disappear. I need to come home. I’ve got a fake passport and I’m going to try to come home. Think about it Walter, if I am telling the truth then you have just discovered the founder of DRI. This is the exclusive of a lifetime. Walt do I have your word? Well?”

“Ok what I might be prepared to do is this. I might print the photo on the front page with your name but no article until you come back. I need to get the photo verified first. I am not promising you. I need to discuss with legals. Goris if this is bull, I will come after you personally. I don’t care how rich you are. My paper will destroy you.”

I went back into the house and gave the phone to John. I sat back on the stool. I told John that I was ready to answer questions. He said that he told them for many years that one day I would come and answer them. John was the only one who spoke English well enough. He translated the questions and answers.

“Gentlemen, I am ready for your questions.”

“Mr John….Ok, John. When are we going to get running water? And electricity? When are our children going to get proper schools? What about jobs for us?......”

“Wait a minute gentlemen please. John what have you told them? Look I need you to understand that John and I started DRI many years ago. We did not know what it would become. We planted a seed that has grown into something huge. That is all we did. We have no control over it. I don’t know what it will do next. I don’t even know exactly how it works.”

“But you are the man that paid for it?...He is John of DRI…..It is your baby.”

“Yes that is true. But if your dog gives birth to a puppy and you give that puppy to someone, are you responsible when it bites or barks or runs away? No you are not. John and I are not responsible for DRI. We are proud to have given birth to it but the baby has been adopted by you and you and you. But tonight the most important newspaper in the USA is going to print our photo. Tomorrow John and I will be the most famous people in the world. Tomorrow we will be the most loved and the most hated. Tomorrow the world will know who the parents of DRI are but our child has hurt a lot of people and those people might want to hurt us. You must all protect John. You must not let strangers come into your village. You must not let John go out of the village alone. Tomorrow I am going back to America but I will be back.”

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