‘Erm, I’m sorry’, he stammered, ‘I was told that there was a cantina here?’ Marcia hates her emporium being called a 'Cantina' but she'll have the African equivalent of Harrod's pretty soon.
‘You found it, buddy, what can I get you?’ There was something about this lad. He was around thirty but anyone young enough to be my son is still a kid. As soon as he opened his mouth I reckoned I knew him. I had no idea from where but his voice set something off in the sodden recesses of my mind. Then there was his build, the confident way he carried himself and the sharp, angular features of his face. What really got me though was his bemused, almost apologetic smile and the eyes which stared straight at me, not scurrying rat like from corner to corner of his eye sockets. It may have been a bit of a surprise for him to discover a white man in a shack literally at the end of the road but his demeanour betrayed none of it.
I realised I was grinning like an idiot as I hauled the shop keys off my desk and guided him along the path so I said, ‘Look, I am in a really good mood because my son has just been accepted into a decent school in England’. This was true. I had only just read the email confirmation. So this lad, well spoken and although casual, elegantly dressed looked at me, three day’s growth and dressed in raggedy shorts, no top, my bare feet kicking up the dust and clutching a smouldering stub in my fist and said, ‘That’s wonderful. Congratulations!’
I unlocked the shop, invited him in and asked him what he wanted as I instinctively made for the beer cooler.
‘No, I don’t want beer’ he said, ‘I just came for cigarettes’
Bugger. It was late Sunday afternoon and we get hammered at weekends. We had run out of pretty much everything and fags were on the list of don’t haves. A broken truck or a bank system that was down could mean a resupply could be days away so for that reason I jealously guard my stash of fags and whisky.
‘Come back to my room, I can help you out with a couple of packets’
He handed me four fifty kwanza notes and asked me if that was enough.
‘How long you been in Angola?’ I asked.
‘About three months, but I have been here before. How about you?’
‘Knocking on nineteen years’
‘Bloody hell! Doing what?’
I handed him his fags. ‘Originally, humanitarian mine clearance, then I went into the security business.’
‘Yeah, during the war I earned beer tokens running cash into the Lunda’s and diamonds out for the traders. We used to call them 'Juice in, Smarties out' runs’
‘In that case, you’d know my Dad’
Last time I’d seen this kid he was fifteen and I was tooled up with a 9mm Llama in a hog leg under my jacket taking my turns as his bodyguard. How’s that for a bloody coincidence?’
Since he was now his own man, he fetched his mates from the roadside kill grilling shack on the main road and we polished off a few cold ones, all my whisky and cigarette stash and Marcia served us up filet in a mushroom cream sauce with chips.
The day after, I was fragile to say the least. Christ, I had to ask the maid what day it was when I finally stumbled out of my pit feeling every one of my fifty two years to make a cup of tea. I badly needed fresh air so I went fishing. And we caught a big one.
|It is longer than I am tall but not as fat|
Marcia salts and dries all the fish I catch which she sells in the shop. She reckons that she will make $500 in total with the shark so it didn’t really die in vain. I had fun catching it, I’ll make money out of it and it will feed a lot of people. It did get the last laugh, though. I gashed my hand on its teeth while I was cutting its jaws out. Still, they’ll look good nailed over the bar. Unfortunately, Marcia dries the fish by laying it out in salted strips over the pile of wood salvage not five yards from our room. Drying fish, especially that quantity has, shall we say, a rather distinct odour. I am sure this is Marcia’s way of saying, get off yer fat arse and build me a drying rack… So little to do and all the time in the world in which to do it, I guess I will just have to get used to the smell.
|Well within range...|
‘Bota’, I said, ‘no one owns these pigs, right?’
He agreed, and he also agreed that this was probably why they were classed as wild animals, even though they were really just feral, and that is why they came under the protection of the wildlife laws.
‘But if they belonged to someone,’ I continued, I could shoot them?’
‘I guess so’
‘So why can’t you do me a favour and say they belong to you?’
I didn’t give him time to think about that and pressed on. The idea, I explained, would be to convince the police that these were the coordinator’s pigs, that they kept escaping and he could not catch them again; that I wanted to make hams and bacon so wanted to buy the pigs but I would also not be able to catch them, but I could shoot them and then pay Bota for ‘his’ pig.
The 2i/c of the police detachment looked at me quietly for a few seconds after I had finished explaining this to him on his next visit. No flicker of emotion, not even a hard stare, just a sort of cool appraisal. He turned to Bota.
‘So these are your pigs?’
‘I didn’t know you kept pigs’
‘I did until they escaped’
‘But there have been pigs in the forest ever since I can remember?’
‘My Father kept pigs as well’
‘And they all escaped too?’
We must have appeared about as plausible as a politician claiming he was honest.
‘Bacon, you say?’
‘And presunto,’ I pointed out. The police were our biggest customer for bacon and ham. They have a lot of mouths to feed at the Esquadra. ‘Real bacon, real presunto, not the fatty salty slime that comes in plastic shrinkwrap’ I added, although I am sure Marcia wouldn’t feel too comfortable having her most lucrative sellers described in such a way.
‘Real bacon’ he repeated.
‘Home made’ I finished.
‘Do yourself a favour,’ he said as he planted his beret back on his head before standing up to leave, ‘let me know when you want to go out shooting, otherwise you’ll have a battalion of intervention police all over you’
Cool. Now I know that some of that bacon and presunto will end up on his men’s breakfast table but hey, I’ll just have to shoot more pigs!
What I really need is a decent reflex bow (my arms are like sparrow’s legs) and broadheads. You can see from the photo I was definitely within range before it looked up and spooked. But how to get a bow and arrows into the country? Perhaps I could have one completely dismantled and then hand carried in bit by bit, each piece having some innocuous description attached to it for customs purposes.
Arrival (being checked by Customs): ‘This, Officer? Oh this is my Access Remote Server Extension so I can receive emails in the field’.
Customs Officer (laughing): ‘You do realise that spells ARSE!’
Arrival (laughing too): ‘Gosh! It does, doesn’t it! It never occurred to me, how clever of you to notice! I can go now? Thank you. Yes, you have a nice day too!’
You see? I’m scheming again…
|My kind of bacon slicer...|