Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Chapter Thirty-One: Slowing


Chapter Thirty can be found here.

He didn’t remember getting to bed, didn’t remember anything after the police gave him his passport back, but at least he did wake up in the hotel room.  Surprisingly, he didn’t feel hung over.  He sat up and looked around him.
Sam was already out of bed.  He had pulled off the blackout curtain—really just a piece of cloth that had been pinned over the window—and had showered.  The night before, while Paul was drinking, he had washed most of his clothing using a bar of bath soap and had hung everything out to dry in the parched air.  Now, dressed in dust-free clothing for the first time in days, he was folding and repacking.  His belongings were laid out neatly on his bed.  He had even scrubbed his pack.
“Good morning.”  He folded a shirt and carefully laid it on top of another.  “I didn’t know how late you would want to sleep.”
Paul looked at his watch.  Early yet.  “Let me get us some coffee, then take care of the moto and walk to the train station.  We’ll get our tickets.  Leave this evening.”
Sam nodded, but didn’t say anything in response.  He just went back to arranging his stuff.  Something had changed in his attitude toward Paul, but Paul wasn’t certain what it was, though he suspected he could guess why.
Watching him pack so carefully, Paul decided he’d also make himself at least a little bit more presentable.  A shower, he told himself, wouldn’t hurt, and maybe he should trim his beard.  He rummaged through his own pack for a pair of scissors, grabbed a cake of soap, and headed into the bathroom.
Half an hour later, dressed in reasonably clean jeans and African shirt, Paul led Sam to a street breakfast stand where an old man in a white brimless cap fried eggs, slapped margarine on bread, and served instant coffee thick with lait sucre, sweetened condensed milk.  As usual, Sam hesitated, not sure he could safely eat the food, but Paul assured him that the water for the coffee had been long aboil and that the eggs would be cooked as well as he could want. 
Paul was certain that Sam could hear the impatience in his voice, so he tried to talk of other things as quickly as he could.  He asked Sam if he still thought he would write something about Africa, or would go back to the things he had been doing before.
“I don’t know.  I’m not really a writer, just a describer.  I’ve always kept my own thoughts to myself, never feeling the need to share them.”
The cook brought over their eggs and coffee.  They wiped off their forks with the paper napkins the cook had also put down and began to eat.
“Hmm.”  It was true, Paul thought: he really had heard little from Sam about his own beliefs, ideas, or reactions.  He had put it down to fear and a response to an alien land.  Maybe it was more than that.  He doubted it, though.  This was a rich man, not a thinker, and Paul had little respect for even the well-to-do.
“If I thought we had seen things that I could share with others, so they could either see them, too, or imagine them, seeing them through my eyes, so to speak, I would still write something.  But I don’t think the stuff we went through is anything I really want to share on a casual basis.”  He didn’t look at Paul as he spoke, and the words felt cold.
No,” Paul agreed, “I suppose not.”  He didn’t feel there was much else he could say.
Their food had been served on plastic plates, their coffee in plastic mugs.  The plates, now empty, were whisked into a cleaning pot by the cook.  Coffee mugs in hand, they leaned back against the wall of the compound the stand rested against along the side of the dirt road, sitting on a long low bench with a number of others, though there was more space empty than filled, a table, scarcely higher, before them.  Scant traffic passed; people here, it seemed, were waiting out the war indoors.
“What do you think about Africa now, though, after having seen some of its seedier sides?”  Paul felt he was losing Sam, that their relationship, or whatever it was, was going back to where it had been when they first met.
“It’s a sad place, and I wish I hadn’t come, wish I had kept my illusions.  I really don’t know what to think about it, and don’t think I ever will.”
“What will you tell people back home?”  Paul tried again to dig for an opinion, but none was forthcoming.
“What can you tell?”  Sam turned and looked Paul in the face for the first time that morning.  “I mean, it doesn’t make any sense, none of it.  I think I’ll say very little, and just attempt to get on with things.”
As they continued to sip the coffee, Paul persisted in trying to get Sam to talk more.  He had little luck, though, and ended up doing most of the talking—or babbling, it felt to him—himself.  Eventually, they stood up and got back on the bike.
Paul had decided to deliver his motorcycle to the house of another former PCV, where the long suffering man from Boromo would be able to retrieve it.  He had always wanted to take the RAN train to Abidjan, a city he had never seen, and wanted to spend time along the Ghana coast, visiting Dix Cove and the other tourist sites.  Then he would make his way to Accra, where he would search for another short-term contract.  He didn’t admit it to himself, but he also wanted to make sure that Sam got safely to Abidjan.  After, in his mind, disgracefully endangering him, he felt he owed it to him to make sure he finished his journey safely.
The ex-PCV was out when they arrived at the house, so Paul chained the bike in her courtyard and slipped the keys under the door.  He and Sam then walked back toward the center of town and the train station, where they would buy their tickets.
After delivering the motorcycle, while they were walking to the station, Paul once more tried to cheer up Sam, pointing out things to him as they passed them by, commenting on Africa and on what they had been through, but Sam continued to keep quiet, though he was clearly attentive, nodding slightly when that seemed called for.  Something new seemed to be preoccupying him.  Paul thought, once or twice, that Sam was about to speak, to change monologue to conversation.  Each time, though, the moment passed with Sam saying nothing.

Chapter Thirty-Two can be found here.

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