Monday, 19 March 2007

Mills and Boon present...

Hot Luanda Nights! (Part I)

I was sitting at my desk, bored as hell when the call came through. After hours of watching rain course down the glass fronted façade of the goldfish bowl they called an office, lethargy had really set in and I let the phone ring for a bit.

Probably only a demand for an overdue time-write sheet and I certainly wasn't in the mood for accounting for what the hell I'd been up to all last month. Mind you, if I didn't do something, I wouldn't get paid. Avarice rinsed away idleness and I stabbed the speaker button.

'It's about that crap you wrote last week,' the threatening gravel of the editor's voice was unmistakable.

'Er, what crap?' I enquired tentatively.

'Berk! How much of your drivel have I printed recently? The stuff about expats in Africa.'

Ah, I remembered that piece......

'More and more expatriate fun seekers than ever are flocking to Luanda's sun kissed white beaches to enjoy tequila clear waters and no tax codes. Ears ringing with promises of idyllic lifestyles, hot and cold running maids, luxury transport and duty free everything, new arrivals, eyes bright with anticipation, sweep through the brash modernity of Luanda's plush International Airport eager to immerse themselves in paradise.....'

One of my better pieces that. A rehash of an old article I'd found in some US rag, a dose of imagination..... sorry, 'artistic licence' and five minutes scribble in the saloon of the Jolly Farmer and I'd got the boss off my back.

Until now.

'What about it then?' I demanded.

If the bugger was going to give me a hard time I'd go down fighting.

'I want you to go there'

'Go to Angola! You must be effin' mad, there's a bloody war on in case you hadn't noticed,' I was bolt upright in my chair by now, 'and besides, I haven't had me jabs,' I was beginning to sound petulant.

'Bollocks to yer jabs, it's them that'll need the jabs after you've been there. The war is over and I want you out there fast,' and he went on to explain how my five minutes of beery literary output had provoked a bit of consternation in some circles, the idea that overpaid expats were living it up while all around them kids were starving to death and getting shot and bombed and suchlike. Apparently there were British companies out there and I was to find them and expose their lack of social awareness and appalling absence of humanity.

'Oh that's nice', I mustered as much sarcasm as my fluttering stomach would allow, 'I have to go and risk my neck so you can be seen as the editor of the rag that made the multi's feel suddenly all guilty and change their ways!'

As usual, he demonstrated a complete disregard for my feelings and two days later I flew Aeroflot, via Moscow, to Luanda.

Four days later I actually arrived.

'I had the chance to join an American Multinational' said one lotus eater when I finally caught up with him sitting on the terrace of his luxury villa in the residential complex next to the airport, 'but when I applied to join this company and got the job it was, well, you know, a lifetime's dreams fulfilled.'

He smiled wistfully as the window panes shook and an Antonov hauled itself slowly into the sky, gentle plumes of kerosene fumes competing with the sweet smell of the quaint little bairro just visible beyond the barbed wire security fence.

'No,' he sighed, 'I wouldn't have it any other way' and he motioned to his almond eyed maid for another gin and tonic. I flapped my hand in response to her enquiring look to decline yet another of these monstrously potent mixtures, after all, it was only ten in the morning.

As she gracefully manoeuvred her lithe torso in through the French windows and between the expensive furniture beyond, her small feet made no sound on the lush Persian carpet. The effect of her gliding was enhanced as her diaphanous dress pressed against her body and appeared almost transparent when dappled by the rays of sunlight that penetrated the lush green foliage surrounding the terrace. Was there a hint of something more in his gaze as his eyes tracked her form until she disappeared into the large and airy drawing room?

Dressed in a Thai silk shirt, colours redolent of the tropics, linen slacks and Gucci loafers worn without socks, he looked every inch the young man made good. Nice to see they employed ethnic minorities as well, I thought. Aware that his furtive interest had been noted, he grinned disarmingly and replaced his Ray-ban aviator sunglasses to confound the frankness of his dark eyes.

'Look,' he suddenly leaned forward, 'A chance like this comes along once in a lifetime and I'm jolly well going to enjoy it to the full'. He reclined luxuriously into the soft cushions of his planter's chair, 'It's just a pity the job's only for five years, a man could get used to this!'

His English was good, very good, but I could not place the accent. I'd heard that the company, although English, had trawled round the world looking for applicants.

The driveway was dominated by the massive bulk of a top-of-the-range Toyota Land-Cruiser, its metallic maroon paintwork reflecting the warmth of the surrounding countryside. From the just visible headrests I could see that the interior was all soft leather and I could imagine the comforting warmth of wood veneer finishes and tactile switchgear. The stereo was probably awesome.

His maid returned bearing a tall crystal glass. Ice clinked gently as slim fingers, moist with condensation delicately placed the drink within his reach. She was, I have to admit, breathtakingly beautiful with artificial hair cascading around smooth, ebony shoulders. With a little dental work she would be perfect.

The Antonov returned, one of its propellers wind-milling uselessly. It was so low that I could clearly see the pilot waving. I waved back and then the moment was gone.

Antonov? Didn't I read somewhere that they had been banned? Must be one of those exemptions people keep talking about. I shrugged and turned back to my new friend.

The Antonov nearly made it across the thresh-hold of the runway. The resounding cacophony of aluminium being torn by red, heat baked earth made further speech temporarily impossible. Reaching into his glass he plucked an ice cube and gently lobbed it into the sapphire blue of the swimming pool. Like memories of London smog it dissolved quickly in the blood warmth of the water, expanding ripples the only evidence of its existence.

'What about the family?' I continued when the sound of screaming had subsided to just the soothing crackle of flames consuming grass roofs. I didn't know if he had a family or where they were but I imagined them sitting in lonely isolation somewhere called home.

'Yeah, the family.' He absentmindedly twisted his gold signet ring, a large logo tastefully engraved on an inch wide disk of black onyx. 'It would've been nice to have them here but, she has her job and the kids are at school.'

He fell silent and I imagined him considering the one downside to his enviable existence. Brightening quickly, he shook himself out of his reverie and gave me a flash of perfectly even teeth, 'But I'm lucky see, 'cause my wife's happy when I'm happy!'

I took in all around me and tried to imagine his spouse jumping for joy in Home Counties traffic. Couldn't see it myself.

'Isn't it time you went to work?' I enquired, feeling slightly uncomfortable as the maid, having slowly unwound her dress within my field of vision now lay basking in the sun next to the pool.

'Relax, I don't do my shift 'til next week, I think I'm doing the TAAG flight on Thursday but can't be sure. The interpreter will let me know, now there's a doll!'

He winked at me knowingly before taking a long, luxurious pull at his drink.

The maid was now pouring suntan lotion between her breasts, and a small pool of amber liquid glistened like honey in the sun. Slowly she smoothed it into her skin, fingers tracing under the flimsy material of her top. A bead of sweat gathered momentum down my back. My mouth was suddenly very dry, I wished I'd taken the offer of another drink.

'Wait 'til you see her friend!' He murmured provocatively. I started and tried to regain my composure, certain that I looked guilty as hell.

'It's OK, you can look as much as you want, that's what they're there for!' He chuckled, 'You English are so stiff but you soon change. They all do.'

This was more like the stuff the boss wanted but I would explore that later.

'So the money's good then?' I continued.

It's a good company to work for,' he admitted, 'they really know how to look after their people, they're not cheap like some of the companies here. I get three, no four times what I used to get. I've bought one house and rented it out and now I'm buying another one.'

Christ! I thought, I can't even manage the mortgage payments on a grotty flat in Brixton and some bloody ex Cummins bloke is rolling in it. This was starting to look better and better.

'Anyway,' he levered his body out of the cushions, 'it's been nice talking to you but I promised my wife that I would take her to lunch.'

Now I was confused.

'Wife? I thought she was, well, back in England or wherever you come from!'

'England?' he looked at me strangely, 'my wife isn't in England!'

'You said that it would be nice to have the family here but couldn't because your wife worked and the kids were at school!'


'But don't they live here?'

'Of course not, this is the boss's house!'

'Well who are you?'

'Me? I'm his driver!'

To be continued.....

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