I hardly slept and when the first rays of light came in through the cracks in the walls, I got up and went outside. I closed my eyes as I stared into the rising sun and waited. Now that I was alone and all the fantasy aside, I felt afraid and desperate. Would I ever see my daughter again? Was I going to be killed or jailed? I was a simple man. I had not been designed or programmed to be a fugitive on the run. I had never done anything wrong in my life. I had never disrespected a policeman. I paid my taxes. I had never had a fight. I was afraid of heights. I wasn’t the one to go on the rides or jump in the sea or canoe down the rapids. I was passive. I knew that I would never come to terms with the reality of my situation. I wanted to lie in a grave and be buried alive but Camila came out with coffee and bread and suddenly once again I was walking with John to the centre of Luanda. This time I was depressed by the stark reality and all the colours were hazy and all the sounds were muffled and all the smells avoided me.
We reached the bank and John asked for our friend. He came out smiling because he knew that today was going to be a good day. We went to our room and I told him that I wanted to withdraw all the money in dollars. He explained that the dollars had been transferred and that they didn’t hold that amount here. I asked him how much they could give me today. He went out and made us wait an appropriate amount of time to think that he had fooled us. He returned to explain that they didn’t have the dollars but that they might hold about $200,000. I told him $270,000 and he said he thinks $240,000 and so we agreed on $250,000. I took the cash. I shook his hand and he shook mine. This was purely business.
We walked at speed straight back to the village. I was so focussed on escape that I didn’t notice a thing until we got to the house and there waiting for us was John and Camila and John’s wife Destiny and their two children, Ninda and Sisco. There were seven of us and my immediate thought was how we would all fit into a car. John introduced me to his wife and two boys.
“Goris, I have bought a beautiful car. I need $7500 please. This is my old friend Edgar. He has brought us a Toyota.”
“It is good to meet you. It is a perfect car with only seven owners. A Toyota Landcruiser. It is four wheel drive and it is yellow, a lucky colour. Only 450,000 on the clock.”
“That’s great. As long as it works.”
“Like a dream. It’s diesel and it will run forever and ever.”
I handed him the cash. There was no point checking the car but I did notice 570,000 on the clock, miles or kilometres and tears in the upholstery. Surprisingly the tyres were good and it sounded like it was running. John had packed up his life in two small old cases secured with rope and a couple of small bags. Camila carried a little pink bag of her own. John and his wife and the children had packed their lives into one large trunk. All bags placed in the back and everyone squeezed tightly inside, the kids sitting on the luggage in the rear compartment, engine purring and we were ready to go. John stood in the doorway of his home and closed the door. Several people had come to say goodbye and give him gifts. I assumed that his black granite exterior hid the tears and fear. He got into the driver’s side and we drove off, everyone leaving their old lives behind.
“John I am sure that we are all feeling the same. We have all left our lives behind. We have no idea of the future but this is it and we must fight for our survival and happiness.”
“I am sad to leave behind my friends but I am happy to be going home. Namibia is our true home. It was only fear that stopped us going back. I am happy Goris and this is because of you.”
“It’s nothing to do with me. It’s just fate but it’s also crazy. It makes no sense. Not in my wildest dream could I imagine that I’d be the most wanted man in the world on the run with a Namibian family, squeezed into a bright yellow car in Angola. I am an ordinary guy. I wasn’t meant for this.”
“I have seen worse films but life is more fantastic than fantasy and this fantasy is our reality And I suggest you enjoy it. Anyway there is a map for you to read. If we are stopped by the police or anybody, you must let me talk. We are very conspicuous. A white man driving with a black family is going to draw attention. It is better you wear your hat when we go through towns and try not to act white. If we are stopped by the police or army, we do not know you. You are paying us a lot of money to take you to Namibia. We have Namibian passports and it is usual for us to pay the police.”
“Where are we going?”
“To Santa Clara at the border. We will stop in Huambo. It is a big city and we will stay there overnight. I have a friend who owns a little hotel. He is expecting us. It will take all day to get there. Tomorrow we will see how far we go. It is a long drive to the border if there are no problems. If it rains, it will take a lot of time.”
After the initial excitement everyone in the car stopped talking. The children fell asleep in the back. John’s wife was lying on him probably wandering what was ahead for them. John and I talked.
“John can I ask you, did you go to school in Namibia?”
“Yes and to university. I have a degree in engineering and a PHD in mechanical engineering. What about you?”
“That’s shocking. Then why did you not work in engineering?”
“I did for a while. I worked for a big oil company but I did not like it. I could not be an insignificant part of such a dirty machine. John and my sister and all my family were very poor and I wanted to provide for them. I heard that diamonds grew on trees in Angola so we all came here. But that is the past. I remember what you told me when you first came to Angola.”
“I don’t remember.”
“That is always the case when you have a lot in your life. We are not meant to remember so much or maybe we are.”
“But I do remember how it was you John who gave me the idea to start DRI and now look at us. We are on the run like criminals for doing a great thing.”
“Yes but I am proud to be part of it. This is really a fight between greed and poverty. Those with the money will kill us to keep it and those with no money will kill to save us.”
“I am not sure. Greed is powerful, so powerful. I have seen it. I have lived it and it is as great a force in those with nothing as it is in those with everything. I am afraid that the desire to have is as strong as the desire to keep. We have to be careful. We cannot trust anyone. The Americans have made sure of that. We are worth $50m and that is a lot of money especially in Africa.”
“Goris we have to fight for survival. That is something I am good at. You have never had to survive I am sure. I can tell by your hands and your skin.”
“You’re right John. I was given everything and what did I do, create money out of nothing. I am ashamed.”
“You have nothing to be ashamed of. We all want the same. Goris, if they catch you and they probably will in the end, I do not think that they will let you go. I think you will just disappear. You, we have hurt many powerful and rich people. Somebody will find us. You know we cannot run forever.”
“I know. What do you think we should do?”
“I think that we need to get protection from DRI. We must put ourselves on DRI and ask for help.”
“You might be right. At least we can try.”
“Goris look over there. I think we have trouble. Those cars ahead. That is not usual. Don’t talk. Let me deal with it.”
John got out and was immediately held at gunpoint by three men. They had blocked the road with their trucks. They were talking. Nobody spoke in the car. John’s wife calmed the children. John came to the car.”
“They want money. I told them that you are rich English and I am happy to help them. I told them that I already took a lot of money from you. I said that you have more money. Not your bag. Just get out and don’t worry. Smile. They don’t want to take from us. They were waiting for you. Let them search you and take what you have. Don’t fight.”
I stood up and one of them pushed me against the car. My hands were raised. They were shouting and poking me with their guns. They took out my wallet with two thousand dollars and credit cards. They threw everything else on the floor and trod the bits into the dirt. They took my jacket, the money, my sunglasses and left. The whole thing took no more than three minutes. I was relieved that they didn’t ask me to speak because I would not have been able to utter a sound. Three minutes that shook me beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life. It was part fear, part shock but mostly anger that three kids could take what they want from me with no single repercussion or risk. John understood the humiliation and put his arm around me.
“They are not bad. They have just done bad things in their lives. They have nothing else. Just think that you probably helped a young family or maybe paid for drugs. Whatever their story, they are worse off than you and me. Come on. We are almost in Huambo.”
As John drove ahead, nobody spoke. I closed my eyes and imagined what humiliations and pain were ahead for me. I really had unleashed something that was not going to go away and nor was the anger against me. A few hours driving along dirt roads and over potholes and cracks and branches and dead animals, we arrived in Huambo. It was not what I had expected. It was a beautiful old Portuguese city with colonial buildings, some restored and some still bullet ridden from the war. We pulled up at a small hotel called The Ritz and John went in. He came back with a couple of young boys who took the luggage out of the car and into our rooms. We followed. I asked for my own room and everyone laughed. We agreed to meet in half an hour downstairs in the bar. I showered quickly and went straight down to the bar. I needed a drink. The bar comprising a few stools, a couple of old Victorian sofas with worn velvet seats and a piece of polished wood worktop which divided us from the barman and a random selection of bottles of alcohol. The walls were panelled in dark wood and the floor carpeted with something floral and worn and old. The totally out of place barman stood behind the bar wearing a white suit and bow tie and a fixed smile. I ordered a whisky but not in a dirty glass. I ordered another. There was wifi available and so I opened my laptop and logged in to DRI. On the run, you don’t think much about the outside world but there it was in front of me, world chaos, my face plastered everywhere, reports saying I had been tracked to China, Bolivia, the US, Mexico and virtually every other country in the world. Reports of my capture, torture and death. I read things about me that I never knew. I read about John and his chequered past. The war in Iran raged and civil war was imminent. Politicians everywhere were on the run, under arrest or dead, a mix of suicide and mysterious deaths and those that remained were fighting a losing battle with DRI for survival. Economies were crashing, share prices plummeting, currencies falling but as wild as the fire raged, the roots of DRI were growing and new shoots were beginning to sprout. Maybe a new world was emerging. I was totally removed from DRI. It was nothing to do with me. I was only concerned with my immediate survival.
“John I want to read you what I want to post on DRI. Although I am not sure how DRI works. I don’t know how emails are picked up but I will send it anyway and let’s hope somebody reads it. Can I read it to you?”
“Please do. The whisky is good.”
“Distributors of e-DRI I am Goris Hoff and I am on the run with John Angola as you are aware. We are the joint founders of e-DRI but we want nothing. We want only to survive and live a family life in peace and we ask you to protect us. We are not heroes. We are not brave. We are hiding from those people that DRI has tried and brought to justice and from those who have things to hide. The US government has offered a reward of $50m for our capture because they rightly fear the most. Other governments and individuals with self-interest their motive are seeking our capture. We are so proud of our involvement with DRI. We did not want anything more than to give a voice to the world. We were content and determined to be silent but then evidence was fabricated and war was declared by self-motivated leaders and nations and we could not allow this. John and I went to the British Embassy to prove to them that we had started DRI but it was in their common interest not to believe us. They had us and they threw us away because they were all complicit in the immoral war against the Iran and we were the proof of their lies. They took our passports and they took the evidence. They used Iran but now Iran is of no significance to them because every politician and every government in the world is fighting for their own personal survival. Some seek revenge and others hope that we can deliver them the most powerful weapon in history. At best we will be captured but likely we will be killed and so we ask you DRI to save our lives.”
“Good, it’s good and powerful Goris. You must post it. Enough for tonight. Let’s enjoy this time. We will never have this again and who knows, it may be our last.”
“You remind me of someone back home. But you’re right, it might be our last night so let us enjoy. More whisky I think. Are there any bars we can go to? John I don’t want to be alone tonight.”
“You are not. We are all here for you. You are part of the family now.”
“Thank you but I don’t mean that kind of alone. I mean….”
“Goris I think I know what you mean. You surprise me but I will see what I can do for you. You do not seem to be the type.”
“I promise you there is no type. Anyway, maybe you too need a little company?”
“I don’t think so. That department was closed a long time ago.”
“Well I think that tonight you should open the shop. As you said, this may be our last. Come on John, you deserve some pleasure.”
“Camila is with the boys. She will never know and she is too young to understand. I insist. What do you like, young, old, fat maybe, skinny?”
“As I said, I will see what I can do.”
All the family gathered in the bar. It was a summer holiday. Everybody had left behind their anxieties. The children were running around. The adults were drinking alcohol and everyone was relaxed and happy. We strolled into the centre with not a care in the world, the children straggling behind, jumping over the cracks in the part paved edge and giggling incessantly, the two Johns reminiscing and Destiny silent. I was in my world filled with fear and anxiety and suspicion, expecting the worst. John told John that we were going off and after a few shots of something like whisky, we left. We walked across the road and into the lobby of a big hotel to see if there was an English newspaper. John came back with today’s paper in English. I caught the headlines, ‘The Biggest Manhunt in History’.
“John I have to read this, look. Let’s go outside. We can sit on the wall over there. Listen to this, ’A co-ordinated global hunt is underway for the capture of Goris Hoff and John Angola, founders of e-DRI. Led by the US, China and Russia, special forces and tracking teams have been dispatched to classified regions across the world. The motive for the hunt is not clear. The US has issued a $50m reward. President Howard announced today that ‘every rock, every stone will be unturned, every crack and every hole will be searched. There will be no safe haven for these terrorists. This is a fight for the free world’….”
“Goris, leave it. I don’t care.”
“John, wait a minute please…’DRI in reaction to the threat against their founders has issued a declaration of war, not in the conventional sense but a conditional declaration. A dire warning, ignored by the tri-alliance. Leaders of the alliance fighting for their survival have focussed their attention on the hunt for Hoff and Angola but what will this achieve? It is my belief that DRI are about to unleash an unprecedented attack on the real world. Hoff is the ‘King’ of DRI and loyalty to this man and his partner, John Angola, who gave the forgotten 80% a voice, is blind. It is believed that there is a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ activity within government to appease the wrath of DRI. Could it be that the rotten leaders and politicians of the real world will be given in sacrifice to the virtual world?’…..This is amazing John. Here we are on a wall in Huambo, you and me reading the paper. It’s surreal. It just isn’t real. Does it feel like we are on the run, criminals being hunted down by the Chinese and the Russians and the US? It’s the stuff of James Bond.”
“I always did wonder if there would ever be a black James Bond and now here I am. It feels good actually. Although I don’t really know what I did to deserve it.”
“Neither of us did anything to deserve this. You are black Africa and I am white America. We met and talked and that’s it. I was wandering and aimless when I met you and you shamed me. You live in a hut, you have no car and no money and you are content. I live in a palace and drive a Porsche and far too much money and I was not happy. The world has been crying for a DRI for years.”
“That is true and I suppose it had to take a rich white man to start it all. We are two parts of a chain. Anyway, let’s have another beer. This may be our last night.”
“Ok I know. Come on let’s go.”
The bar was in a rundown modern building full of ex-pats being serviced by locals. We were too conspicuous, the walking talking photo that every single one of the revellers had seen again and again but John said that we were so out of context that we were safe. I told John that we should separate. He agreed to meet in fifteen minutes outside. I ordered a double shot of whisky. I kept my head down and went outside. John was waiting with two girls, one in her fifties, obese and smiling and holding his arm and a young thin girl, a little shy and no smile. We walked back to the hotel. I had no need to stake my claim because John had done so first and he went up to his room with the larger lady and I escorted the younger girl to my room. I went to the bathroom and when I returned the girl was naked standing over the bed. She did not smile. She said nothing. She just waited for me to do. I saw a ten year girl holding hands with her father in a rural village. The mother was far away, crying and beating herself. The father was talking to an old man and then they shook hands and he handed over the little girl. The little girl was married to this old man and raped every night and beaten and forced to work as his slave until she could take no more. She ran away to the big city and met a friendly man who offered her help and she took it because she was still innocent. He took her to his house and he beat her and he raped her and men came and beat her and raped her and then she agreed to sell herself to the men they brought and I was one of those thousands.
“What is your name?”
“Bella. No English just fuck. Money. Dollar.”
I could not do it. She was at most eighteen. What life had this little thing had? She did not know what happiness was? She didn’t move as I watched her. I realised that she was just a machine processing filthy perverted men. I walked towards her to tell her that I could not. I had money in my hands to give her. As I approached her, this abused child, the same age as my daughter, turned to me naked but the sheer beauty and youth of her perfect, tight black body was too much for my conscience. No part of me was able to refuse and as she lay down on the bed, I removed my clothes and entered her. As I was fucking this poor little thing and seeing her eyes wide open and gone as they had been a thousand times before, I closed my eyes but all I could see was this girl playing with her friends when she had friends, screaming with joy when there was joy in her life. Now she had no happiness in her life and all she could do was remember those few happy days whilst disgusting men like me battered and beat her. I rolled off her and as before, I felt shame and disgust. She dressed and took the money on the table and no doubt, straight to her next abuser.
In the morning, we met in the room where breakfast was being served. I was the last to sit down. I smiled at John and he grinned. Breakfast done, children toileted and we were on our way. It was a long way to the border. We queued for fuel at the edge of the town. There was a shortage of fuel for the locals because they did not matter. The road was tarmac and potholes and track and potholes and the journey was slow and fast, fast and slow. The journey was peaceful and calm, mixed sleep and silence and occasional chatter and sometimes song. By nightfall we had reached the border town of Santa Clara and with John guiding us, quickly through to Oshikango, Namibia. John took us to a lodge where we unpacked the car, stretched and followed him in and then to our rooms. I gave him dollars to pay. It was the same routine as yesterday, shower and toilet and then meeting in the dining room.
I showered under a trickle of water, slightly yellow and slimy that came through an ancient showerhead and with gritted soap from a mouldy dish. The tiles on the floor were broken. The towels were almost clean and did their job adequately. I would have preferred the floor with a little less dust and cleaner sheets on the bed but what did this really matter? I wanted to phone home but couldn’t. I wanted to be home. The daydream had been washed off and once again I was the fugitive in a chain gang. I wasn’t but those were the words that kept coming to me. I was however running. I played the part well, looking left and right as I exited the room and peeked round the corner before going downstairs. I kept my head down and walked confidently into the dining room, a loose term for a dark and aged room with table and chairs, plastic cutlery, plastic cups and bottles of coke. The family were there waiting for me apparently and we sat and ate. At least the kids were on holiday. The adults were somewhat subdued, John and I with guilt, John and his wife probably with the uncertainty of returning home with nothing and to nothing.
John was explaining that we were going to drive to a place called Swakopmund. John and Destiny held hands and she gently kissed his cheek and for a brief moment, they looked like the young, full of expectation. It was nearly 600 miles and with luck 12 hours driving. Before we left, John and I sat down and I logged on to DRI and the photo was there. We glanced at each other, unlikely accomplices. DRI was a volcano erupting with vengeance against the leaders and governments of the real world and intent on protecting the two founders who apparently were us. The warnings had been ignored by the superpowers and DRI as promised now turned their weapons directly at them, trigger cocked and ready to be released. It appeared that the three presidents, Popov, LiJuin and Howard had placed their final bet on us in an all or nothing last desperate bid to save their falling empires. The roulette wheel was spinning. DRI knew that gamblers were weak and always lose in the end. DRI knew that catching their founders was of no benefit to the three and issued a global e-statement. I opened the BBC website. These were the headlines:
’Following the DRI e-Declaration for e-Conflict against any party or individual that harms, incarcerates or holds Goris Hoff or John Angola, DRI has today issued an emergency e-Conflict ‘amendment without vote’ based on predicted outcome of DRI vote. The amendment states ‘e-Conflict will be declared with any Government or individual that pursues, harms, incarcerates or holds Goris Hoff and they will be subject to the full force of e-DRI’.’
“John I suppose that’s good for us if it’s not too late but the dogs will never stop hunting us, you do know that. Even if the presidents are brought down, their governments will never stop. We need to go. I don’t feel safe here suddenly.”
“Do not worry Goris. We are safe.”
“John, I’ve been thinking about us and it seems crazy to go to your home. It’s the first place they’ll look. By now they will know everything about us, every detail of our lives and everyone here. Do you know how many people they will have dispatched? Maybe thousands. They will stop at nothing to save themselves. We can’t go to Swakopmund. We will be walking into a trap.”
“Goris, I think you are a little too afraid.”
“John can you get me a phone. I want to call somebody in the US. Maybe he knows something. Here is a $100 to borrow a phone.”
“I will ask my friend….Here Goris, you can use this but he wants $200.”
“Steve it’s me. Listen carefully. Go to a public phone right now, right now. I will call you in exactly 10 minutes and you give me the number of the phone. Be careful nobody sees you………. Ok? John let’s get the stuff in the car and we need to think where we can go. I’m sure Namibia is full of operatives and the police here will be after us. We can’t stay here. We have to get out of Angola…………………………………….Steve? Ok got the number. I’ll call you now…..Steve, ok we are on the run. South America. I can’t say exactly where because I don’t know what they’re listening to. Have they been to you and Gallie?”
“Goris, they’ve talked to everyone, well threatened everyone, me, Gallie, Jazzy, Katrina, everyone you know, neighbours, family, friends. Jesus Goris, it’s scary. They mean business. It’s dangerous for me to even talk to you. They’ve warned us that we will be charged under the terrorist act if we even mention your name without informing them. For sure, they’re listening to everything. They made it clear that we are not allowed to go to the media and not even to our lawyers. They are determined to get to you before DRI get to them.”
“What else did they tell you? Do they know anything?”
“They said they’re right behind you. They said that they knew you were in Africa. They said it was only a matter of time before you slip up or before someone sees you. Do you know how many arrests there have been? You wouldn’t believe who they arrested yesterday.”
“I know and I haven’t got time for this. Listen Steve, I want you to call them and tell them I called. Tell them that I’m in the UK in protective custody. If the papers found out, it wouldn’t hurt. How are the girls?”
“They’re ok. Scared. They’re worried about you. Jazzie is very upset. She’s sure you’re going to be killed. So am I Goris to be honest.”
“Thanks I prefer it when you’re not honest. Tell Jazzy and Gallie that I miss them. Tell them that I’ll be ok. I’m not going to let those bastards get me. And Steve, when you call them, tell them I said to go fuck themselves and that every one of them looking for me will be hunted down and executed by DRI. Remind them that I can hide but they can’t.”
“My god Goris, you sound like a James Bond villain.”
“I feel like one. Who’d have believed that I would end up on the run from the US government, chased across the world trying to prove my innocence? I tell you something Steve, at least I feel alive. It’s unreal, the whole thing. I’ve got to go. You know what I’m saying, look after the girls for me please. Bye.”
“Come on Goris, we must go. I just heard the news. They are looking for us in Namibia and I promise you, money talks here. We have to go back to Angola and then to the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
“No way John. It’s not safe there. There’s war. You can’t take your family there. Maybe we should split. It would be safer.”
“No. No split. We are together in this. I speak French. Do you?”
“Yes, well you need me in Congo. We have to go there. If it’s dangerous for us, it’s dangerous for them and nobody in the Congo will welcome foreign mercenaries, especially white ones. Come, please do not argue. I have friends there. We will be safe.”
“You said we would be safe here.”
“We would be safe here if they weren’t looking for us.”
“Ok you’re right John. Let’s hide in the most dangerous country in the world. We will be safe from the Americans but we will probably be kidnapped and tortured, especially me.”
“Very true but kidnap and torture is familiar to me. It will be an adventure. Goris, it is a very long journey to the DR Congo and we have to go back through Namibia. We have to pay the border control in Angola and maybe here too. They will ask why we went for one day to Namibia. This is suspicious but you must leave it to me to talk. If they ask you, just act a stupid American tourist. We don’t want the police. Anyway, if we get through, we have a very long journey. We have to drive fast. I have looked at the map and it is more than 1500 kilometres. DR Congo is a very dangerous country but in the North it is safer.”
“How far to the north of Congo?”
“Better you don’t ask Goris. The roads are very bad and there are a lot of bad people. Also, you cannot be seen. It is not safe for a black man but a white man won’t get a hundred kilometres.”
“You didn’t say how far?”
“I don’t know exactly. Maybe 2000 kilometres. We will travel during the day. If we keep away from the bigger towns, we will be safer and then it’s perhaps three or four days. Come on let’s go. Everyone is in the car. The sooner we get to the Congo, the safer we are.”
Camila had done a good job removing most of my hair but now my beard had grown quite a bit, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and hardly recognised the weird looking fugitive staring strangely back at me. Camila had dyed my hair black but my beard had grown since then. I could be seen from a thousand yards away.
“John, do you not think that a white man with black hair, blonde beard and blonde eyebrows is a little too conspicuous?”
“You know hiding a white man in Africa is not an easy thing. Your skin is pink like a pig and your hair is yellow like straw.”
“I’m glad you find me so funny. Really John, is it not safer to make my hair all black?”
“I think you are right. Let me ask Camila what she can do.”
The family got out of the car and spread about a bit in the parking area whilst Camila came into the hotel and took me by the hand back into her room. She pulled out the remaining black dye and rubbed it into my beard and eyebrows with a white hotel towel. She led me to a chair and pushed me down and then she left. After some time, she returned most business like as the professional she was, took my hand again led me to the shower and turned on the shower hose, a green garden hose and put it above my head and with her tiny little hands, she rubbed the residue dye out of my beard and eyebrows and off my skin. She was a most delicate and gentle little black flower and I smiled at her as she wrapped the towel around my head and patted my beard and brows dry. A rare smile escaped her as she looked at her client. She pulled me to the mirror and what I saw made me laugh out loud. Camila covered her mouth to hide a giggle. I picked her up and kissed her cheek. She squirmed with embarrassment. I put her down, took her hand and led her to the car. As we emerged, all eyes turned to me and the entire family laughed uncontrollably. As we all piled back into the car, it occurred to me that this was an omen, the calm before the Congo?
The border crossing went to plan. John dealt with the entire process, paying the Namibian officers $200 and the Angolans a better deal at $100. We drove 800 kilometres to a little town called Camacupa without stopping except to fill up the tank and stretch our legs. The radio was on loud all the way and John seemed intent on listening without interruption. He was impenetrable. From time to time he turned the radio down and informed me who had been arrested and where, what was happening in Iran, a quote from one president or other, a statement from DRI and little bits of news in the hunt for the fugitive creators of DRI. I had forgotten about the fugitives because they were too busy travelling across a poverty stricken and desperate country to the relative safety of the most dangerous country on the globe. The magnitude of the journey took over everything. This was the reality of our life today.
John found a hotel for us and then another. None of us cared that they were empty and dirty and old and smelling and dark. We had eaten on and off all day, stopping to buy bits and pieces wherever we could from shops, farmers and villagers. All of us went to our rooms and crashed. There was no internet so I had no idea what was going in the real world. I tried to plan the next step in our journey but my mind had no intention of going down that road. It wanted to sleep and it did.
Suddenly we were in the car. The hotel stops had been an illusion and sleep had not come. The road hadn’t changed. The scenery was the same. John had amazing determination and strength and never complained about the journey. Fixed to the road, a proud African warrior facing the enemy on the battle field, with rigid neck, back upright, hands at ten to two, he drove fast where the road allowed, avoiding every pothole, anticipating the suddenly appearing and disappearing tarmac. Kilometre after kilometre of slow and sometime non-existent road, narrowing at some points to single track. John manoeuvred the vehicle over pothole, left and right, swerving here and there, totally and completely immersed in the driving. We had 600 kilometres journey to the border town, a tiny outpost called Luau. We drove by occasional, derelict and abandoned colonial buildings, remnants of a dead age, a stunning Catholic missionary, a skeleton with red tiled roof, beautiful arches and columns and glassless windows, a two storey columned white elephant that once was something grand and a pink painted empty hotel. We arrived exhausted at night with nowhere to stay. We managed to buy a little food and drink. The children were already asleep over the cases and between. John and Destiny lay across the back seat and John said goodnight to me, put a blanket in the bushes where we had hidden the car and closed his eyes. Only the white man remained awake and uncomfortable. Eventually even he fell asleep.
In the morning, I was the last to wake up. At 6am, Camila nudged me gently and surprisingly kissed my cheek. We got to the border post soon after. A single storey blue painted, red tiled colonial style building, surprisingly well kept and out of place and straight through in a matter of minutes as the two Angolan officials stamped the passports, a double take on me as the photo in my UK passport did not match the face they stared at, quickly removing two one hundred dollar bills inside and stamped. We drove across the red and yellow painted iron bridge over the river and into The Democratic Republic of Congo and on to Dilolo border control and two hours, gentle persuasion and $100 and we were through. John managed to change some of our dollars with the officials obviously at an extortionate rate. We had 800 kilometres of almost non-existent road to get to Mbuji-Mayi. It was a big city with a population of one and a half million people, reported by some to be closer to three million, centred on the diamond industry and apparently full of miners, robbers, pickpockets and a great shortage of water. It was remote and disconnected from the outside world with some hotels and thus a place that we believed might be safe if we managed to reach there without being kidnapped, robbed or murdered but of all the evils facing us, at this moment those seemed the lesser.
We set out from the border at 7.30am and drove, stopping on the roadside wherever locals were selling fuel from yellow plastic containers. I could see that both Johns were on high alert and that made me more nervous. They kept close watch on every car that we saw in any direction and upon entering the car, locked all doors and pushed me down so that I was hardly visible and the part of my head that may have been visible was covered in a straw hat of sorts. We stopped for nothing other than fuel and toilet. The children were intermittently quiet and playful, bored and tired but never did they complain and John and Destiny entertained them with games and songs and stories. John and I listened to the radio. We managed to find BBC world service every now and then.
‘The hunt for Goris Hoff and accomplice John Angola has spread across Africa following sightings in Kenya and Namibia. Teams of special ops from around the globe have combined forces in this co-ordinated terrorist hunt. Agencies from around the globe are investigating reported sightings throughout Africa. However in a dramatic turn of events, President Howard last night issued a statement that US Special Forces had been dispatched to Brazil and Argentina where a joint operation is underway. Latest intelligence has revealed that Hoff and Angola are most likely hiding somewhere in South America. Details remain unclear. Our BBC correspondent in Argentina has today confirmed that groups of bounty hunters across the continent have joined in the hunt. The increased tri-alliance reward of $500m for the live capture of Hoff and Angola has encouraged bounty hunters to take up the hunt throughout the region and elsewhere across the globe. The founders of e-DRI are now victims themselves of greed. Have they underestimated the most primeval urge of human nature, greed? Now let’s go to our political correspondent in New York. Keith, what has been the reaction of DRI to the………..’
“Shit we’ve lost the signal.”
“Goris we are worth $500m. That is incredible. My life has never been worth more than a dollar. Do you think that they would give me the money if I give us up?”
“John that’s funny. Can you tell me what they’re saying? My French is not good enough.”
“Ok. Ok. DRI has given a final warning. They have 12 hours to retract the reward or they will execute President Howard, then Popov and then LiJuin. That’s why they increased it to $500m. In any case they said that they will prevent the payment of the reward.”
“It makes no sense. What difference even if they do catch us? What will that achieve?”
“I think that we have too much faith in people. They just want revenge. What else?”
“What’s that about the Venezuelan president?”
“He’s disappeared and the Mexican government has resigned. Apparently, South America is almost without government. Uruguay is the only place unaffected. The army is the new government.”
“John the whole world has lost control. I wonder where it’s going. Somebody has to run things.”
A young girl waved us down on the side of the road. A boy threw stones. A few men with guns waved at us. John said he was not stopping. It might be a decoy. Both Johns on high alert again and I slouched down. The children were singing and clapping their hands. Destiny clung to John’s arm. John suddenly braked as two men stood in the middle of the road waving us down. John shouted orders not to get out and to be silent and pushed me right down into my seat. The children fully understood from experience that they dare not utter a sound. He quickly got out before they approached the car and caught sight of the white man.
“Listen, this has nothing to do with you. I will give myself up.”
“Don’t be crazy. They want to rob us, that’s all. John will make a deal with them. He has done this many times. Let’s call it a road tax. See he is coming to the car alone.”
“They are farmers. The little girl needs to go to the hospital in Mbuji-Mayi and they just want a lift. They have fuel. I want to say yes. She is ill, malaria. She will die. We can put her in the back and they will go on the roof. They told me that the roads were very dangerous with many gangs. They will show us the safest way. They said that we have to keep west, away from Goma. Goris I told them that we are giving a lift to a stupid white man, an aid worker. Don’t worry, the outside world does not reach here. That is a luxury.”
“Is Malaria catching?”
“Of course not. You really don’t know anything. Do you?”
“Not really no.”
The child was really sick and lay limply down in the back of the car. The two men, brothers apparently, jumped on top of the car. They could hold on to the roof rails. John had to drive slower and even more carefully. This would add much time to the journey. I kept trying to tune in to the BBC. Eventually a BBC English voice clearly spoke. I listened to a discussion about crime in Mexico City and the drug wars and the gangs. I closed my eyes and rested a while and there in front of me was Gallie, smiling and holding her arms out. I ran to her and we embraced and she told me how much she had missed me. Although she was Gallie, she wasn’t Gallie, she was the young black girl that I had fucked in the hotel and next to her were our children for we had children together, beautiful black children all shouting ‘daddy’ and then we were all in the sea, all my children, Gallie and her sister, both black and eighteen years old and they crawled out of the water and their legs had been eaten and the children came out and they too had lost their legs. John must have hit a pothole for it nudged me awake and he shouted out of the window to his passengers on the roof. I tuned the radio again and found the BBC.
’It would seem that amid the world crisis, total political and economic chaos, collapse of government, the dismantling of the super-rich and the redistribution efforts, DRI has emerged as an organised and powerful international e-government but today we ask, what does this all mean? In this report, we will be examining the global impact of e-DRI. We have economist, Richard Rothstein, former head of the US Treasury department, Professor Malcolm Arnold, head of economics at Oxford University and our own political analyst Shaun MacVitie. Gentlemen, we are all witness to the chaos around the world, the fall of presidents, politicians, government officials, police chiefs, army officers. Economies are collapsing as we speak. What can we do? Is there anything we can do to stop this Richard Rothstein? Thank you. The US government has made it clear that we will not negotiate with terrorists but throughout history that is exactly what we have done. This is simply political rhetoric and no doubt, the US government are attempting to negotiate as we speak. I think that we can safely assume that President Howard will be impeached along with President Popov and LiJuin. The question is, who will replace them? Unbelievable as it is, DRI has issued its own list of ‘suitable candidates’ who have been declared ‘DRI-clean’. A tide of change is sweeping across the world and the public are demanding openness. I don’t see any other choice. We have to negotiate with DRI……. Can I step in here please? I must say that I agree with Richard entirely. DRI is an unstoppable force but how realistic would it be for a kind of upper international government to operate above national government? It is a very interesting concept but I’m not sure it’s workable. Shaun, may I say that from an economic perspective, I don’t see an issue. There would simply be an adjustment, massive as it may be but economic equilibrium would be achieved in the end under what is in effect, an international confederate government….Would it be a fairer world?.....Well I don’t know but if DRI is able to maintain openness and control then perhaps. What is certain is that a good shake-up has been long overdue. It is surely a world gone mad where a pop star or a footballer can earn more in a day than a doctor in a year or where the wealth of the third and emerging world has been stolen by a handful of oligarchs and a few corrupt individuals. I for one welcome the change. And it will give me something interesting to discuss with my students….Sorry to interrupt but if you stand back for one minute, it seems to me that an alien species has invaded earth and is making demands and we are just giving in….I can see the merits of the principles of DRI, I really can, but it just can’t work……Ok well thank you for your view. What’s your thinking Malcolm?....I think that governments, as they were, have been unable to stop the advance of DRI and we have to assume that it is unstoppable. It has the upper hand and nothing the Western world has thrown at it has made a difference. That may be a bitter pill to swallow for some but as you can see, a lot of people are more than happy. I think that we have no choice but to negotiate. I’m not sure what we are negotiating with. DRI is an evolved Automatic Intelligence system. We need to think carefully about the direction this self-declared e-government is going. We mustn’t forget that this is a self-declared government and I am seriously concerned about a government, an international government in effect, operating without leadership and without a system of checks and balances…..But Malcolm, maybe you’re overlooking the fact that more than 1.4 billion Distributors voted for this new e-government….Yes whilst that may be true, I worry about the possibility of a computer going rogue and let’s face it, that’s what it is. It is only as intelligent as its information and within the confines of its programmes. Can it remain neutral and fair? I’m not sure it can. You only need to look at the demographics of DRI to understand that information will be heavily loaded against wealth and perhaps stacked in favour of religious fanaticism. If you have a billion plus people mainly from the poorest regions of the world uploading one-sided information then what exactly will be the impact of that on DRI decision making?... Perhaps we don’t know enough about DRI information gathering ability but I suspect it may be heavily weighted against the West.’
“That is really amazing John.”
“I think it is frightening.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if everyone lived by the same rules and given the same chances and wealth distributed fairly? Hospitals and education for all.”
“Of course but that is a stupid dream. We are differentiated by geography and climate, religion and language. Equality is not possible. That is the nature of the world. How can you bring water to Africa? How can you bring reason to Somalia and the Taliban? Religion is there to make sure that we can never be equal.”
“Ok maybe there can never be true equality but there can be a fairer world. John, technology has made it possible to bring water to Africa and medicine to prevent malaria. Anyway, whatever happens, our lives will never be the same again.”
“You know I don’t want money. What would I do with it now? I want opportunity for Camila. It is too late for me.”
“No it’s not. Why should you not live in a nice house and have a car and go on holiday? It’s not funny. I mean it.”
“Give me running clean water and a toilet and I will die a happy man. You know Goris, I got more pleasure sitting on a real toilet in the hotel and doing a shit than I got from that woman and I had a lot of pleasure with her. You can’t appreciate life because you have it all. I am not being rude.”
“I know that John and I agree with you. I wish that my daughter was here with us and my wife.”
“Funny you never talk about them. Why?”
“Because I have left them behind. I am never going to be able to go home. The US will never let me be. I have to make a new life somewhere.”
“But children are everything. Your daughter is born to look after you when you are old. That is why we have girls.”
“Not in my world. They go and live in other countries. Children are brought up to believe in themselves, to want more and more. Old parents are a curse and dumped in retirement homes and visited once a year.”
“But they should be a blessing. It is the greatest honour to ease your parents into the next world and repay them for bringing you into this one. That is why you are born.”
“How can you think like that when you’ve faced war and death and murder and famine and disease? Why would you want to thank your parents for bringing you into a world like that?”
“Because life is about struggle and reward. You grow food to eat and you eat it with joy and thanks. You give birth to a child and it lives, you thank god. You survive war and disease and you are grateful to be alive. All the tragedy makes you more grateful for life. How can you be happy when you need to struggle for nothing? Human nature is designed to want not to have.”
John turned the radio up to listen to the music. Every now and then the men on the roof would knock for us to stop the car. A discussion would follow and John would then turn left or right, across field, dirt track and gravel road or park behind trees for a while because they were suspicious of something or other. Those were our stretch and toilet stops and a chance to try to talk to the strangers. I attempted French and we managed a few exchanges, none of us sure exactly what the other had said but nevertheless, shaking hands and smiling. We had driven many hours and the men suggested that we hide the car and camp out for the night. We had to organise things before it got dark and to remain absolutely quiet. John explained to the kids that noise travelled far. The little girl was sitting up and drinking water but she did not look good. I told John that we had to get her to the hospital. He asked her father if we should drive on and he said it was too dangerous.
“John, the little girl is too ill. She’s going to die if we don’t get her to hospital.”
“Goris, I know but what can we do? There are gangs and soldiers and many dangerous people looking for easy targets like us.”
“What if she dies?”
“That’s life Goris. Not yours but ours.”
Everybody closed their eyes and slept apart from the white man. What kept me awake and allowed them to sleep? Insomnia was for the rich. How can their minds be at such peace? It wasn’t fair. I wanted to sleep. I tried every position I could manage. I even lay a blanket down on the floor and tried to sleep but nothing worked. I decided to walk about a bit. I came out of the trees and to the road and sitting across the road some way down, was a group of men, obviously a rebel group or maybe some feral gang. I crouched down and edged back behind the trees. I watched them without moving a muscle for over an hour, not out of courage but in absolute fear of being caught. They smoked, urinated, ate, rested and left. I went back to the camp, lay down and slept.
Why was I always the last to wake? Again Camila kissed me. Everybody was waiting for me to come out of the bushes. The two brothers perched on top. The children squeezed in the back of the car and the little girl, lying on the floor asleep and very, very sick. I understood how John felt about shitting on a toilet. It was 6.30am. We had a whole day’s driving at least. Destiny handed out bits of fruit for us all and John held a few bits out of the window and up for the boys on top. The radio was on but I couldn’t pick up the BBC. It was far too early to talk. I had hardly slept. I didn’t have the energy to tell them about the rebels. The entire family were full of energy and refreshed after a good night’s sleep and chatting and laughing, the children playing whilst I closed my eyes.
“Goris you are missing beautiful landscape.”
“I can’t open my eyes.”
“Well keep them closed and we can talk. We have to decide what to do? I know we are heading north but then what? Do you think they will catch us? John? John?”
“Who? The rebels or the Americans or the bounty hunters?”
“I don’t think our chances are great. The bounty hunters will go home when the US drop the reward. So who do I think will get us first, the rebels or the Americans? I think the rebels will get us first and then sell us to the Americans.”
“That’s good then because everybody wants us alive. All they can do is torture us but they won’t kill us.”
“By the way, I got up last night because I couldn’t sleep, and I saw a group of rebels on the road.”
“Really. What were they doing?”
“Nothing, resting. You know I’ve never been in any situation like this. Once a man asked for my wallet and I gave it to him.”
“Why did you give it to him?”
“I don’t know. He had a knife maybe. Last night John, I was so scared. I froze. This life does not suit me.”
“And you think it suits me, do you? And Camila? You get used to everything. It just becomes your life. Do you think I am not afraid? We are all afraid in Africa, afraid of violence, of disease, of famine, of rebels. I have lived my whole life in fear and you had one moment when someone asked for your wallet. This is the real inequality.”
“I’m sorry that it’s not fair. I didn’t ask to be born white.”
“And I didn’t ask to be born black but Goris maybe there is a little hope with DRI.”
“Anyway, how long to Mbuji-Mayi?”
“I am not sure. Maybe eight hours. The brothers told me about a hotel. We will go there after we drop them at the hospital.”
It was almost dark when we arrived on the outskirts of Mbuji-Mayi. A few huts appeared on the side of the now tarmac road with bright blue and pink walls, corrugated sheet roofing, women sitting on chairs outside with children running around and chickens dispersing, street vendors selling fuel and food, enormous mobile phone logos on buildings and as we got closer to the centre, the buildings got closer and denser and filled with people and scooters and trucks. The brothers knocked on the window and John stopped and listened to directions to the hospital.
The hospital was a sprawling complex of buildings from the 1920’s. Attempts had been made to keep it in good condition and relative to what we had seen, it was but in modern times in the first world, never would a hospital like this exist. The buildings had been planted in sandy terrain with failed landscaping, crumbling walls, old windows, dirty shutters, chaos inside and out. Certainly not a place you want to be ill. John stopped the car and all the doors opened and everyone got out to stretch. The brothers jumped off the roof and to the rear and the father lifted the tailgate and whispered to his daughter that they had arrived but she did not answer. He picked her up and held this tiny, emaciated body, draped over his arms and screamed in pain falling to his knees, repeating ‘non’ again and again. We all stood in horror as the little girls head and legs spilled over his arms, lifeless and gone forever. The oligarchs, the billionaires, the corrupt governments, the politicians had murdered her with their own hands. Never before had the link been so direct with their greed and the death of an innocent child.
His brother tried to console him and a woman from the hospital came out to prize his baby from his arms as she had done a thousand times before. She did not have the luxury of time or compassion for the grieving relatives. John went up to the two broken men and said a few words but there was nothing to say. We got back in the car and stopped at the first hotel we saw, Le Majestic. The upper few floors had not been finished but the lobby was surprisingly adequate. It was good to be inside a clean building. I paid for the rooms with Dollars against hotel policy of course but in the circumstances they were prepared to take the dollars at great inconvenience at three times the usual room rate and commission for the exchange on top. It was tradition by now that everyone went up, showered, changed clothes and came down to eat. The children had never seen such a luxury place and stared wide eyed at everything, running their fingers over the wallpapered walls and almost velvet sofas. This barely one star hotel was perfect in every way. One star fittings, one star service, one star rooms, one star guests but anything more than this would have been wrong.
I came down first. There were a couple of aid worker types sitting on one of the sofas. Both middle-aged, religious looking and possible bible-bashers, she with long silvery black hair sporting black slacks and tucked in pastel flowery blouse and he brown cord trousers, pink striped shirt tucked in and tightened by a black leather belt, silver hair properly combed and parted as it should be. I approached them rather thoughtlessly and asked if they spoke English.
“Yes we do. We are from the States and you?”
“The States too, LA. What are you doing here?”
“We are volunteer aid-workers. We’re with UNICEF. What about you? We don’t see many Americans here.”
“I’m a journalist. You don’t happen to have an English newspaper? I haven’t read a paper for ages.”
“Probably better you don’t read one. The world’s a mess. There’s a new government or something. We’ve been here almost three months now and don’t really understand it. The world doesn’t exist here. There’s no point in the world coming here. Anyway, we do have yesterday’s tribune. Here, it’s in my bag. You’re welcome. Maybe you can tell us if it’s true that President Howard has been impeached?”
“I don’t believe it. The war against Iran has been stopped. Thank God for that. Sorry, I didn’t know he’d been impeached. Can I keep the paper? Thanks”
There was wifi and I went straight to CNN. Destiny and John came down with the children. They sat down nearby enjoying the luxury and the feeling of wealth in this one star paradise. John came down after fifteen minutes and sat opposite me.
“John, you won’t believe it. They’ve dropped the reward and President Howard’s been impeached and the Vice President is awaiting DRI trial so he didn’t accept the presidency. And President Popov, he’s under house arrest. Only the Chinese President is still there. Stock exchanges are collapsing. ”
“What difference? People still eat and breathe. Does this make a difference?”
“I don’t know. But they’re still looking for us. That’s what they’re talking about, you and me. John we’re not safe here. I don’t feel safe. I saw two white people before. There’s internet. Our picture is everywhere. Look, that’s us. At least they’ve only got one picture of you. There are loads of me. Look that’s me and my wife and daughter and that’s me when I sold my company. Someone is going to notice us.”
“Have you looked at yourself recently? They’re looking for a blonde American. Not a black bearded English man.”
“John they’re looking for a white guy travelling with a black guy. There can’t be many of those. I think we should split. You’re not safe with me. You have Camila and your brother.”
“Stop it Goris. It’s our destiny and that’s it. You are my white brother from another mother. Can’t you tell? Anyway there are a lot of black and white men together. That’s how business is done here. They will assume that we are doing business.”
“John do you think you can ask someone if I can use their phone? I will pay of course.”
“Here take it, the woman working in the hotel has agreed to let you use her phone for $100.”
“Steve, it’s me. Go to a phone box quickly and I will call you. 10 Minutes. Ok?”
Two shots of whisky and reading about the impact of DRI, the global economic and political chaos, military shake-ups, arrests of businessmen and civil servants and bankers and politicians, stock exchange volatility, suicides, murders, disappearances, lists of ‘DRI clean’ candidates and endless e-trials. DRI’s hunger was insatiable. DRI distributors now in excess of 1.5 billion devoured one corrupt person after another. E-trial after e-trial and followed by e-execution after execution and all the while sucking up their ill-gotten gains. I wondered if there would be anybody left. I went outside to call Steve.
“Steve. What’s the number? I’ll call you back right now. Got it…….Steve, I’m ok.”
“Jesus Goris, I’ve been going crazy. What the fuck is going on? I thought you were dead. You heard they dropped the reward? You won’t believe what’s going on”
“Yes I know. What’s happening with you? “
“It’s crazy. My phones are tapped. I’ve got people following me. I can’t wipe my arse without someone watching. Katrina is scared, really scared…… Don’t worry, I climbed out the toilet window and I ran here. Nobody followed me I think. Listen, you know the president’s gone but that’s not going to help you. They arrested Walter.”
“Jesus what for?”
“Publishing your name. National security issues. Withholding evidence or something. Goris you must realise that they are never going to stop. Never. As far as they’re concerned, you personally brought down the president of the US and everyone else. They know it wasn’t you but they don’t care. Your freedom is humiliating for them. They need to hang someone out to dry.”
“I’m sure that’s true but don’t they see what they’re up against?”
“That makes no difference. You can try to bring the whole lot down, every politician, every civil servant but you can’t. You can remove layer after layer but it isn’t going to help. Corruption is a disease that’s spread like a plague of rats. You think you’ve got rid of them because you can’t see them but you know that they are always only a few feet away. There will always be one left. They want you. It’s that simple. It is pure revenge. You spoiled the party for a lot of people. What the hell are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Stay alive. I’m still in South America. I’m in Brazil. In the Jungle and I’ll stay there.”
“I know where you are and so does the entire world. I think you should stay there. You can’t come back. You know they’re looking everywhere for you? Goris I worry about you. If something happens to you I’ll never know. The girls are ok. At least they believe you now. Gallie wants you to know that she’s sorry she doubted you. She still doesn’t know why you had to destroy everything. You need to know Goris that even if you did come back, you’ve lost her.”
“What’s the difference? Really Goris, what difference now?”
“Steve, I’ve got to go. I’ll call when I can. And don’t tell the girls.”
“Well how is your friend Goris?”
“I think that he is with my wife.”
“Maybe. He said that they’re all being followed. I don’t know John. It’s my home, my family. When am I going to see them again? If ever.”
“You cannot think about that. You are in Africa now and you must think like an African. It is easier if you have to think about survival. It is easier if you have no dreams and no hope. You will appreciate more of life and you will have to make a new life. But you have family now so you are not alone. Come let’s go find everyone and go into the city. Maybe we can find a restaurant. The children have never been to one.”
We asked in the hotel for a restaurant. They warned us about street robbers and police looking for victims. They told us to carry nothing and that if nobody suspected we had diamonds or money then we might be safe. They said that it was good that the white guy looked so dirty. The streets were full of people and noise and cars and smells as we walked slowly in the direction of Mama Mungana. The family loving it all as if they were on holiday, the children visibly excited, Destiny and the two Johns either side of her, strolling unnoticed but I walked a few feet behind fully conscious and afraid that every passing pair of eyes was looking at me, assessing, questioning, planning. Was the white man an aid-worker? Was the white man a businessman? Did the white man have money or maybe diamonds? I was never more uncomfortable and relieved than when we entered the restaurant. Plastic chairs and a few Formica tables spread about a large room full of people. The white couple that I had met in the hotel earlier were seated in a corner, eating fish. They waved at me and I smiled at them, momentarily happy that I was not alone.
“Hello again. How are you?”
“Good thank you. Tell me, is it safe here?”
“Jesus will protect you. We have never had any problem. If you have nothing to hide you will be fine. Anyway young man, enjoy your meal. The fish is good. I’d stay off the meat. Let’s hope the electricity stays on or you’ll be eating sardines on bread. My wife and I were saying, you look familiar to us. Have you ever been to Alabama?”
“No never. Anyway, I hope to see you around.”
I sat as far from the white couple as possible with my back to them whilst the whole family feasted on fish, boiled and mashed cassava leaves, cassava in banana leaves, roasted cassava, hot peppers, rice and beans. The children were simply in heaven at the sight and variety of so much food. This was a holiday for the whole family seemingly oblivious to everything else.
“How can you be so happy and relaxed? I just don’t understand. I am afraid of the nice white couple over there. I am afraid of robbers in the street, rebels on the road and the whole world looking for us. I can’t enjoy the food. I can’t sleep. I can’t stop worrying. And you are on a holiday, enjoying the trip, enjoying the food and no worries.”
“Goris stop being afraid and eat. The food tastes better without fear. If you don’t eat, you’ll be afraid and hungry. Listen my brother; you are going to be running for a long time so you need to accept your new life. Now eat.”
“I know you’re right but it’s all so hard to believe. I used to live in a big house in America, a simple middle class guy, married with a daughter, eating in restaurants and playing golf. People walk dogs and run where I live. The worst thing that could happen was you put on a couple of pounds. I was a respected businessman. I never did anything wrong in my life. Now look at me. I’m unrecognisable, dyed black hair, dyed black eyebrows, dyed black beard, on the run from god knows who and hiding out in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, travelling on a false UK passport with a family of Namibians. I’m scared to eat, scared to walk, scared to shit, scared of my own shadow.”
“And look at me I’m just a black African man. I used to live in a hut and I still do. I shit in buckets, drink dirty water, eat if there is food, work 60 hours a week for 8 dollars a day. My wife was murdered and I have no hope. People starve in my neighbourhood and they run from the police. Look at me I am 35 years old. I look 65 and I am running again and I am scared too. But I am also hungry and I am enjoying my food. Later I will be afraid but now we must enjoy. Goris, we don’t know what our future will bring and that is why we must grasp today.”
“Got it John. Enjoy the food because tomorrow we might be dead.”
“Yes my friend that is exactly right. You see how good the food tastes now.”