Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chapter Ten: Learning

[Chapter Nine can be found here.]

“Ready to see the real Africa?”  Their route taxi, a small bus, had taken them away from the boulevarde circulaire and was about to pass through the wide entrance to the taxi gare where, El had told Paul, they would find a vehicle for Lama-Kara, the largest city in mid-country Togo and the closest to El’s post.  El grabbed his pack from beneath his seat as he spoke.  Watching him, Paul did the same.
“You mean this hasn’t been ‘the real Africa’?”
“Lomé?  Naw, it’s a city from the French.  Even has buildings with glass and steel, paved straight streets.  Might be some Africans in it, but it isn’t an African city.”
The bus pulled to a stop at the edge of the large grassless field the vehicles scattered around would leave from, the largest, creakiest buses heading all the way north to Niamey.  El and Paul rose with everyone else in their minivan taxi and waited to file out onto the packed dirt of the gare.  The original seats had been removed and replaced with more constructed of metal tubing with minimal seat pads and in narrower but longer rows so they had to sidle through to the aisle and then to the door. 
“What’s a real African city like?”  They stepped onto the sandy ground and looked around, El seeking the bus to Kara, Paul trying to catalogue this new vista while attempting to look nonchalant, like an old Africa hand.  Buses and taxis were parked here and there in clusters, almost as if random gatherings, but most of the space was empty of vehicles or buildings.  Around the edges of the field were rows of small rough-built shops and eating places.  At the center stood a cement building, the only solid structure in sight, and the only place that looked deserted.  Though it was hardly seven in the morning, the whole area was filled with people walking, chatting, eating, shopping, or just waiting, sitting on piles of baggage.  Though it had rained a great deal the evening before, the ground, except for a few deep puddles, was already dry.
“Oh, a real African city is of mud, and the streets meander, follow their own paths.”  El thought for a moment as they stood next to the bus they had come on.  “You know, you probably could say that about Africans, too.”
“Say what?”
“That they seem to wander, that they follow their own paths; they certainly ignore the ones we Westerners try to lay out for them—to their credit, by the way.”  El pointed to where the Kara bus was already loading.
“I don’t know what you are talking about, but if you say it, it sounds good to me.”  Paul smiled and followed El to the bus which, he saw, was parked by a building with a hand-lettered sign reading “Kara” tacked to its top.  A man sitting under the awning in front of the building took money from them and wrote out tickets.  El shoved both of their bags through an open window toward the back of the bus, effectively saving the seats they landed on.  He then looked at the ticket in his hand.
“I’m number sixteen.  That makes you seventeen.  This probably seats twenty-four, so we shouldn’t have that long before we leave.  So, let’s sit down and get something to drink.” 
“You mean these wait to fill up to leave?”  Paul followed him to a nearby drinks stand.  “No schedule, just go when full?”  He looked back at the van, wondering if it were prudent to leave their bags just sitting there but unwilling to say anything about it.
“Yeah, that’s the way it works around here.  It’s one of the things you have to look forward to.  It’s rarely a problem, going to Kara, but there are places where you can wait all day, or longer.”
“Great.”  But Paul could see the logic of it.  If time isn’t critical, but cost is, why sacrifice lower cost for efficient use of time?
“Yeah.  Want a beer?”
Paul blanched.  His stomach still felt queasy, though their drunk had ended the morning before and he had done nothing for the past day but recuperate.  Plus, he thought to himself, it was way too early in the day.  “No, but coffee would be good.”
“Coffee’s over there,” El pointed to a stall a little way down, a long table featuring a large, steaming caldron, a row of plastic cups, and a pyramid of Nescafé cans.  “Just give him twenty-five francs.  The milk will be condensed and sugared, but it’s either that or black.”
“Guess I’ll take what I can get.”
“You’d better, if you want to enjoy yourself around here!” 
It was already getting quite hot, so they commandeered a bench under a thatched awning by the drinks stand once they had each obtained their beverage.  El sat down, took the bottle top off his beer, took a swig, then, taking the cap between thumb and second finger, sticking his elbow out and bringing his hand next to his ear, snapped the cap out in a lazy arc away from him.  He took another drink, then covered the top with his thumb, keeping out the ubiquitous flies.  He had sat, Paul noticed, so that their bus was directly in his line of sight.
“Well, when do you think we’ll get to Kara?”  Paul fanned his coffee and sipped at it, the rough edge of the relatively soft plastic cup providing a new and not really pleasant addition to the instant-coffee taste.
“Should be late this afternoon.  If we get out soon, maybe earlier.”  He took another pull on his beer and tried to smile, but his easy grin had been eluding him more and more, the past day.  Paul wondered if he were becoming a little too anxious, too worried about getting back to Kara and more reminders of the murder—which he still knew little about.  He couldn’t ask, he knew, so dropped the thought and drank his coffee.  Perhaps El would tell him eventually.  Or someone else.
The ride to Lama-Kara, though it did take less than half a day—and that at fairly low speed—covered an astonishing variety of landscapes—astonishing to Paul, at least, who had assumed that the countryside would be continually the same.  From the flat, coastal plain through the hills around Atakpamé and up over the rocky mountain just an hour south of Kara, the view would change from rice fields to cotton fields to teak plantations—the big leaves coated with dust from the traffic over the dirt beside the road—to a bit of jungle, to village, to town, to any other and sometimes back again.  Rows of women with vegetables or mangoes in baskets on their heads walked down the sides of the road toward those villages where it was market day.  Men traveled on every conveyance from donkey cart to bicycle to moped, to motorcycle to car or truck.  In some places they could whiz along by them; in others, slower vehicles and walkers covered the road, causing the chauffeur to lean out his window and shout with frustration—for his horn did not work.  Sometimes the houses that could be seen would be of mud, others of cinderblock, unadorned except for zinc roofs.  Still others, but more and more rarely as they moved north, were surrounded by walls topped with broken glass, with television antennae poking from tile roofs.  Little bars dotted each village, often with tables out front, shaded by umbrellas advertising brands of cigarettes.
Each time they stopped, the bus was quickly surrounded by women and youths selling oranges, roasted peanuts, plastic bags of chilled water, bubble gum, and meat on skewers.  Occasionally, El, who had the inside seat, would reach over Paul and buy something, which he would then share with Paul once they were moving again, eating as he pointed out the sights, his own problems thrust aside in his obvious joy in showing Paul each new attraction.
The day before, El had disappeared for a few hours, leaving Paul to wander around Lomé on his own—not that he did much of that, staying close to the maison and sleeping, mostly, or reading a book about the pop vocal group The Mamas and the Papas, one that he’d found on an old couch near the bunks.  Being alone was fine with him; he had a great deal to sort out, emotions to work through, old plans to reimagine or reject.  Plus, he was more than a bit hung-over, a feeling somewhat replaced by exhaustion as the day progressed.
When he returned to the Peace Corps maison in the evening, El had obviously been drinking again but, this time, when Paul asked him if he wanted to go out for a beer, he merely had tried to smile that wistful smile of his and shake his head.  When Paul got back from a walk along the beach an hour or so later, El was asleep in one of the top bunks, snoring gently.   Seeing that, Paul felt somewhat disappointed and a little lonely, but he did recognize that El had been walking around emotionally exhausted for days, not to mention that he was clearly too frightened of his own feelings to deal with them.  So, he rummaged through the maison’s little book exchange and found a Stephen King to read until late in the evening.
At some point as they rode, Paul thought about the fact that El hadn’t mentioned Joan Rodham at all since telling Paul that he had found the body at the start of their all-night creep.  Sensing his reluctance, though he wanted to know more, Paul had kept his questions to other topics, any other topics.  There were others he would meet who could tell him.  Now, it was just questions about the countryside they were passing through on the National Road north that he threw out. 
El still had the videotape with him.  Paul had seen him surreptitiously reach into his shoulder bag and touch it several times as the morning and their trip went on.  Perhaps Paul would eventually get a chance to see it—he surmised it was the Kuralt interview—but that was clearly going to have to wait.
The road twisted upwards, finally, along a wall blasted out of stone, taking them into haze and gentle rain that, when they reached the peak, turned harsh and steady, following them down onto the plateau where Lama-Kara lay.  Even through the wet, Paul could see that this new region was not nearly as lush as the places they had passed through.  The trees were a little more separate, each a bit more regal as a result.  El pointed out an odd, thick-trunked one with gnarled branches that fit what Paul imagined the ents of The Lord of the Rings might look like.  He called it a ‘baobab.’
As they neared the city, El seemed to get both jumpier and happier.  He talked even more than he had on their drunk, seeming to want to share some ambiguous, unsaid thing with Paul, to make him understand, perhaps, why he was going back but without really telling him anything directly.  Paul would get to meet a bunch of the region’s PCV’s, he said, good people.  People he loved.  People who cared as much about Africa and about each other as he did.  He didn’t know how many would be in town, but there were generally two or three, in addition to the teacher-trainers who were posted there.  They usually met at a bar off the side of the main road leading north out of town, one that they called the “Mango Bar” for the large mango tree that shaded the tables out front.  They would go there, he said, as soon as they had dropped their bags off at the empty house of one of the Kara PCV’s, a woman traveling for the month.  He went on about his friends and even their friends, both American and Togolese, providing more detail than Paul could digest, his voice turning into a drone mixed with the sounds of engine and tires.  Mesmerized by the changing landscape over the ridge, with its fewer trees, flatter fields, and low, distant hills, he leaned his forehead against the glass, his eyes now closing as mud compounds with thatched roofs and small villages and towns flew past.
The road coming into Kara was straight and, nearer to town, lined with trees.  It seemed green and pleasant to Paul, who had awoken to the sounds of the slowing bus, not nearly as dusty and dirty as Lomé, nor as crowded.  El watched silently, merely noting that Paul was awake, as they neared the taxi gare, taking up his bag as they stopped and people started to file out of the van, not even looking back for Paul as he descended and started to walk toward the house where they would be staying, the house he had mentioned earlier.
Though they left off their backpacks as soon as they arrived at the compound, El kept his shoulder bag with him, the tape still in it, when they started out again for the Mango Bar.  Once more talkative, he pointed out sights to Paul as they walked from the house: the restaurant owned by German brothers, each married to a Togolese woman, the main market, its whitewashed wall hung with used clothing (“we call that part of the market the ‘dead yovo market’—figuring the Togolese think these must come from dead white folk: Why else would they get rid of their clothes?”), and the road up to the one fancy hotel in town, the Hotel Kara.
As they turned the corner by the market, Paul could see a huge, spreading mango tree in the distance, its dark leaves shielding a row of low buildings and half the road, as well as the couple of meters between.  The buildings sat below road level and were reached by steps cut into the cement retaining wall built against the asphalt.  Motorcycles, all with yellow helmets on them, were lined up by the road just beyond the steps.  At a table in front of one of the buildings, whose wide open doors and “Biere du Benin” sign proclaimed it to be a bar, a group of six sat, four whites and two blacks, one of whom looked up as Paul and El approached and opened her mouth in surprise and, it seemed, delight.
“Papa!”  The shouter was one of the two white women, the taller, with curly auburn hair cascading over neck and forehead.  She was dressed in blue jeans and a long-sleeved work shirt.  The others looked up quickly.  All smiled, stood, and spoke at once.
“Welcome home!”
“Bon arrivé!”
“Have a beer!”
“Who’ve you brought?”
All of this the two heard, and more, as they neared, then clambered down the steps and joined the table.  Paul looked over at El as they stood over the party, which had resumed its chairs.
“Papa?”
“That’s my nickname.”  El looked at him, rather sheepish.  “Seems that someone, in our training, decided I look like Ernest Hemingway.”
Paul laughed.
A second table was dragged over by the barman, along with two chairs, and two more BB’s, the local shorthand for Biere du Benin, were placed on it.  They sat amid a continuing barrage of conversation in a mixture of French and English.
The four whites, Paul discovered as they sorted identities, were all PCV’s stationed in the region.  The blacks, both Togolese, he was told, were named Alex and Bouk.  Alex was the homologue (work counterpart, someone explained) of Mark, the taller and paler of the PC men, and Bouk was the boyfriend of the shorter female PCV, Rachel.  The other male PCV, Jeff, was a short, blond fellow with a slight Texas accent.  Paul didn’t hear the name of the other woman.  All six seemed well along to a good drunk, though it was yet to reach four in the afternoon.
Because Alex and Bouk both spoke English a lot better than Paul spoke French, most of the conversation took place in English, though with French spattered throughout.  Occasionally Paul had to interrupt, to ask for a translation, but no one seemed to mind.
As the afternoon moved toward evening, talk quieted, got more serious and, almost without notice, shifted to tales of the life of Joan, the murdered volunteer.  Paul, who had already begun to feel the outsider amongst a group of very close friends, felt even more left out as he listened to their subdued, almost teary tales and occasional bits of nostalgic laughter and the way they gently enfolded El into the conversation, all of them watching him as they spoke, making sure that he did not appear overwhelmed.  Though extremely curious as to what had happened, Paul didn’t want to break in and ask directly, not in such a conversation, a dance, really, of mourning.  As time passed and blue faded from the sky, he sensed that this was becoming some sort of wake, and that what the people around him really wanted was to celebrate Joan, not talk about her end.
By dark, four or five more people had joined the table, a couple of them Togolese, the others PCV’s, but Paul had been drinking as hard as the rest, and didn’t get a handle on any of their names. 
Eventually, someone asked El if he had brought back the tape.
Slowly, everyone stopped talking and looked at him.  They had all been waiting for this, but none had previously had the courage to ask.
“Yes, I have it.”
“Can we see it?”  The question came, with hesitation, from one of the newcomers.  Paul guessed that he desperately wanted to see it, but did not want anyone to know just how much.
“When can we see it?”  Another voice, but after a pause.
“Where can we see it?”  This question spilled quickly into the wake of the other.
El raised his hands.  They all quieted.  The dusk shadowed his features.
“There’s a video player at the Hotel Kara.  I’m sure they will let us use it.”
“When?”
“Whenever you folk would like.”  El, answering these questions quietly, seemed calmer to Paul than he had yet seen him.  Seemed more in control or command.
“Now!”  Someone spoke toward the floor, but clearly enough for everyone to hear.
“Yeah, let’s see it now.”  This from one of the women, also spoken with an authority Paul had not yet heard from anyone in the group.  Besides this rejuvenated El, that is.
El shrugged.  “Someone will have to give me a ride up there.  I haven’t got my moto yet.”  He turned to Paul, and spoke more quietly.  “You want to come?”
Paul shook his head.  Though he, too, was curious to see this tape, he didn’t think he wanted to intrude further.  Not now.  Already, he was feeling that this was too private, that he shouldn’t be here.  It would be best, he thought, to stay out of it, though he admitted to himself that he still did want to hear the details.  He could ask soon enough, he told himself.  Let El and these others do what they needed to do first.
“Anyone else staying?”
The PCV named Jeff said he was.  “I saw the video when I was on home leave, when it was first broadcast.  I don’t think I want to see it again, not just now.”
“Could you, then, see Paul gets some dinner and back to Jan’s house?”
“Sure.  But come back here.  We might not leave.  Might eat next door.”
The rest of the group, now absolutely silent, got up and filed up the steps to their motorcycles.  Yellow helmets fit heads one after another, and a series of low sputters, then roars sped them away, tail lights disappearing around the corner up the low hill to the Hotel Kara in a long, evenly spaced line.
Jeff ordered another round of beer then turned to Paul.
“So, tell me about yourself.  El says you’re just traveling through, but no one does just that.  Not through Togo.  What brought you here?”
“A woman, but I don’t really want to talk about it.”  He put down his glass and leaned back in his chair.  People here seemed to respect one’s need for privacy.
Jeff shrugged, then surprised Paul by addressing the topic he’d been thinking of.  “Suit yourself.  But, if you stay around here long, you’re going to find that everyone will quickly know everything about you, anyway.  Even if you don’t tell, word gets around.”
He took a sip of his beer and then continued, explaining.  “There aren’t many Americans in Togo, especially up here in the north.  There are fewer PCV’s.  And, no matter how we try, this just isn’t our place.  We have African friends, sure, and work with Africans, but we eventually all turn to each other.  We have to: The lives here are just too different, too alien.  We need each other, whether we want to or not.  And we end up knowing things about each other that, anywhere else, would be well hidden.”
“How many are you?”  Paul didn’t really know the extent of what Jeff was talking about, but nodded anyway and asked questions anyway.  He’d never lived beyond his own culture, didn’t know what it meant to be forced to build a community out of a somewhat random small group, didn’t understand the importance of the others who can remind one of home.  Couldn’t imagine either the protectiveness or the potential nastiness of such a small sub-group in an alien land.
“PCV’s?  Maybe forty in the Kara region, perhaps thirty more in the Savannes.  I suppose there are as many other Americans around, if you include missionaries and the like.”
“So, maybe one hundred to one-fifty, here in the north.  Americans in all, I mean.”
“Yeah, something like that.  Not a big community.”
“No.”
“And, for us PCV’s, we get to know each other in training, and then, well, we’re looked down upon by a lot of the others.”  He hesitated.  “Other Americans, I mean.  We have no money to speak of, are generally younger, and are more irresponsible—as they view it.  And, in their eyes, we stay a short time and don’t really know what we are doing.  So our community is really confined even within the larger American one.”
Paul, whose thoughts, a result of too many bottles of beer, were now drifting elsewhere, merely nodded.  This didn’t make any difference to him, anyway.  He had been asking questions just to keep the silence away, for lack of anything else to do or say.  Anyway, he was merely passing through, would be back in Wisconsin in another month or two, probably in time to enroll in his graduate program for the coming semester or, at least, to find a teaching job somewhere.  Everyone always seemed to want science teachers.  This was just a vacation.  But, he suddenly realized, he had been telling that to himself frequently.  He wondered why, but did not pursue it.
After a while, Jeff seemed to recognize that Paul wasn’t particularly interested, wasn’t really contributing, and let the conversation tail away.
They drank in silence or small talk, but Jeff eventually did bring the conversation back to the American community, not for Paul’s sake, obviously, but for his own.
“It makes it hard to have any privacy, for this is a small country, even with so few of us, and we stick out.”
“How many PCV’s in the country as a whole?”  Paul was resigned to the topic.  He knew he had to let Jeff talk, if that was what he wanted.  Though he’d never felt the needs Jeff was talking about, even drunk he did understood that others did.
“Maybe one-twenty-five.  In Peace Corps terms, that’s crowded.  Burkina Faso, five times as big?  Six?  I don’t know, but there are only fifty or sixty PCV’s in the whole country.”
“So they don’t see each other as much.”
“Yeah, they have to make do with occasional visits, not the everyday interaction we have.”
After another pause, once Jeff had exhausted his opinions on the dynamics of the American and Peace Corps communities, Paul asked Jeff why he hadn’t wanted to see the videotape.
“Like I said, I saw it when I was on home leave, and was excited to see someone I knew on national TV.  My parents saw it, too.  I was at their house when it was on.  It was important to me.  Joan and I were in the same French class in stage, in training, and I knew her fairly well.  It was special seeing her on TV, and I want to keep that memory the way it was.”
“What sort of tape was it?”
“She was interviewed for On the Road.  They were doing a segment on Peace Corps.”
“Were you back here when she died?”  Still wanting to know what had happened, Paul decided to try to push the conversation that way, at least tentatively.
Jeff looked down at his hands for a moment.  When he looked up, he met Paul’s eyes, then spoke slowly and clearly.  “Yes, I had just come up from Lomé, just returned from leave, when El came by that night…. ”
He took another drink.  “Look, let’s order some food from next door.  If you want, after we’ve eaten, I’ll tell you about it.  Assuming, of course, El didn’t give you the details.”
“No, he did not.  And I didn’t want to ask.”
“Thanks for not doing that.  I’m sure you’ve been wanting to know, and I appreciate that you held back.  This has been particularly hard on El.”
He stood, steadied himself, and walked to the building beyond the bar where he spoke for a moment to the waiter tending a pair of outdoor tables.
“I ordered us both steak frites,” he said as he sat down again.  “Should be ready in a few minutes.  Just about when we’ll be ready for another beer.”
“You guys sure drink a lot.”
“Enough, as they say, to float a battleship.  Hell, it’s been a constant drunk up here the last month.  Probably the longest wake, ever.”
They sat for a bit in silence, each refraining from touching a glass, tacitly having decided to wait until the food arrived and they had begun to eat.
“So tell me about it.”  Paul bit into a piece of the tough meat.  He was getting impatient.  The others would probably be back soon, or someone else would show up, and he wouldn’t get to hear the story for a while longer.
Jeff hesitated, then took another bite of his own and a drink before starting.
“Joan had a woman who helped her, something a lot of us have.  Generally a woman working for the women, a man for the men.  Not really a servant, but someone paid, but who generally becomes a friend.  She would stay in the house when Joan wasn’t there, protecting it, would clean, sometimes do marketing for food and the like.
“Anyhow, such a position is a plum, in most villages.  You get money, and the status of being a friend to the local white person.  So, when you move in, the person who is going to work for you is generally presented to you by the family that owns the house you’ll be living in.
“Joanie’s house was owned by the chief in her village, and the person assigned was one of his daughters.
“She was pretty nice, Ayesha, and we all got to know her.”  His voice trailed off and he shook his head, staring at the road.  “It’s strange what will happen.  You never believe what people can do.  And you always half believe you can reach back into the past and change things, could make it right.  Or could have.  Should have…. ”  His voice trailed off.
Paul said nothing.  This, coming on top of Jeff’s comments on community, made him realize how absolutely he was an outsider here, and he now felt peculiarly lucky to be getting any of the story at all from one of the insiders.  After a few minutes, Jeff started talking again.
“Joan started noticing things missing from her house about six months ago.  Small things.  She mentioned it once or twice to me or to El, or to another of the PCVs, confused by it.  Ayesha, she said, had tried to help her find them, but both were stumped.
“Then larger things, and more expensive things started disappearing, including some jewelry that Joan had brought with her.
“Though the house was generally locked, Joan had no idea who might have a copy of the key, for the lock had preceded her.  She figured someone had been sneaking in and taking her stuff.
“So, she decided to go to the marché here in Kara, to get a new lock and key.
“While here, Joan browsed in some of the other booths.  We all do that.  It’s fun.  You find some of the oddest things.  Well, that day, in one of the stands, she noticed one of her pieces of jewelry hanging from a display rack.
“She thought she was being pretty slick.  Instead of demanding it back, she admired it, and asked where the trader had gotten it.
“He had bought it from a woman.  She had him describe her as she pretended to consider buying it.  From his description, she realized that the thief was Ayesha.”
Jeff stopped again, slowly finishing his steak and fries and drinking a little more beer.
“Joan didn’t know what to do.  Once again, she asked me and a couple of others—including El—what they thought.  Finally, we agreed that she should go to Ayesha’s father, the chief, and tell him what had happened.  We suggested that she do it privately, so as not to embarrass Ayesha.
“After all, we all liked her.  But we never should have told Joan to go to her father.  It was a mistake.  Now we live with that, and it killed her.”  He stopped for a moment, quietly composing himself.
“Anyway, Joan did that, went to Ayesha’s father.  The chief thanked her for speaking so frankly and privately.  But Ayesha disappeared a few days later, and the chief returned some of Joan’s belongings to her.
“Later, we heard what had happened to Ayesha.  Her father had publicly disgraced her and had her beaten—doing all of this when Joan wouldn’t be around, when she wouldn’t know of it.  After the beating, Ayesha was banished from the village.
“She went down to Lomé, where she stayed for some time.  Apparently, she found two men down there, and convinced them to come back north with her, to help her teach Joan a lesson.  Obviously, she blamed Joanie for what had happened.
“They went to Joan’s house one evening, while Joanie was cooking dinner.  They had sticks or bats of some kind.  They must have rushed in and started beating her.”
He stopped again, and drank again.  No longer did he look Paul in the eye, and his voice had taken on a mechanical edge.
“It was horrible, Paul.  I didn’t see her after she was dead.  El had covered her.  But I saw the blood.  I couldn’t believe the blood, splattered everywhere.”
“It was El who found her?”  Paul knew he had, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say and he wanted Jeff to get on with the story.
Jeff nodded.  “He did.  He covered her, took her key and locked the house, rode to my house, and asked me to get Mark and get over to Joan’s house right away.  He was shaking, and as pale as I’ve ever seen a person.  She was dead, he said.
“He gave me the key, left me, and rode his moto into Kara, where the nearest telephone was, and called Peace Corps in Lomé.  I went to Mark’s house, told him, and we drove over together.
“After looking inside, but just for a moment—we really couldn’t step in, couldn’t bear to see, though we saw the blanket over her body—Mark and I sat on the steps outside.  We didn’t want to say anything to anyone.  We didn’t know who had done it, didn’t know anything.  We just sat there, not speaking, not moving.”  He paused for a moment, remembering.  “We stayed there the whole night.  It was the most unbearable night of my life, that sitting there, the longest, the most horrible.”  He stopped for a moment, looking out and up toward the road.
“Eventually, El got back.  Then it was the three of us staying there on Joan’s steps, never even thinking of talking, until the Peace Corps cars arrived, I don’t know, maybe eight hours later. 
“Come to think of it, I don’t think any of us spoke at all, actually, even when El got back and sat down with us.  I don’t think we even asked him about the call.  We just assumed someone would be coming.”
They sat silent in the bar for a time, Paul trying to imagine the emotions of that night, Jeff reliving them.
“How did you find out what had happened?”  Jeff seemed to have dropped into a sort of stupor.  Paul brought him back.
“One of the Peace Corps vehicles had stopped by the police headquarters in Kara, and they came up, too, the police did.  Of course, they talked to the chief, and the story of what he had done to Ayesha came out.
“She was found, a week or so ago, captured in Lomé, but the two guys with her seem to have escaped, though I heard the other day that one has been found in Benin.  She told that they had done it, and that she hadn’t wanted Joanie killed only beaten and punished.  But I don’t know.
“I saw all that blood.  They hadn’t just wanted to beat her.  All that blood….  ”

[Chapter Eleven can be found here.]

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