|Two precocious little children|
What does one do with a recently orphaned child, the responsibility for whom has just landed at one's door, a child who cannot sleep at night? Little Marta is fine during the day, She does what any child of her age does, she plays with other kids, wolfs down her meals and once the mossies come out, she is one of a line of kids sitting on the sofa watching TV or playing a game together.
Alex is usually the first to flake so we lift his comatose body into the bed. Mauro, Marcia's nephew who is with us temporarily is the next to run out of steam. Our current accommodation being ever so humble, requires him to sleep in a tent in the jango. Believe me, it isn't as bad as it sounds this being a tropical climate, certainly not as potentially uncomfortable as Big Don 'Mad Kev' Alviti's decision to camp in the snow. While Number One Son Dominic was here over Christmas and New Year, the pair of us slept in the tent by choice armed with comestible goodies nicked from the shop and a fine selection of DVDs to play on the laptop.
Marcia is the next to go. Of all of us she works the hardest and puts in some long hours buying stock for the shop and running around the various government departments that interfere with honest commercial activity (while turning a blind eye to the blatant corruption endemic here) to keep our licences up to date or apply for new ones. I have offered to help on numerous occasions but she wants me nowhere near her suppliers or Government officials as she, being Angolan, can avoid paying the extra 'White Man's Tax' my appearance would inevitably raise. These last few days she has been busy clearing the first of the kit to arrive we have imported for the shop and restaurant. As I write, she is back in town again (which is a 100 mile round trip) to clear the next lot.
|The first of our imported kit arrives.|
Scars of months at sea evident, it will clean up.
Our eyewateringly expensive Mr Whippy machine,
99 with a flake, anyone?
With Marcia and the boys fast asleep that leaves just Marta and I.
Marta sleeps on the sofa, right next to the bed in which I sleep together with Marcia and Alex. I can usually stick it out until eleven at night but by then it is a bit of a struggle for me to keep my eyes open. Marta lies there on the sofa with her eyes glued to the TV. When I warn her that I have to pull the plug on the generator she rolls over, buries her head in the pillow and pretends to go to sleep while I arrange the mosquito net around her. 'Would you like a torch, Marta?' I ask her. I have gone through a lot of torch batteries since she arrived.
I may be an old soak but if I hear a noise at night, bearing in mind that with the gennie off and being so far off the beaten track, there is total silence, not even the hum of a refrigerator, I awake instantly if I hear something. If it rains, I wake up for it is under cover of the noise of raindrops pattering on wriggly tin roofs that the bandits come to steal, If the dogs bark, I am out there to see who or what they are barking at; me,a fat old white bloke standing there in the yard looking foolish clutching a sword in all his naked splendor.
So if a six year old starts to whimper into her pillow at two in the morning, I hear it. First time I climbed out of bed and tried to give her a hug, But I am a complete stranger. That wasn't what she wanted, she wanted her Mum and I will never be that. It can't be good for her but I crank the gennie up again and leave her in front of the TV, she watching mindless cartoons and me unable to go back to sleep instead polluting her lungs with second hand cigarette smoke, which is even worse for her.
Clearly some drastic action was needed. She is not ready to be hugged yet; on her first day here I couldn't even pick her up, she would just wriggle away so nothing could be rushed.
She is very inquisitive, a good indication of a functioning brain, and gets into everything. I turned my back for a moment and then found her stabbing the send button on my Outlook so if any of you receive unusual emails from my account, you now know why. She loves my camera and much to Alex's disgust, I let her use it the resultant voluble indication of his displeasure and the equanimity such a concession demands leaving my stomach churning every time I see my four year old stamping through the bush with a difficult to replace camera, one I am rather fond of, dangling off its strap somewhere around his knees.
This, however, is all fun and games and does nothing to engender the caring intimacy normal between children and their carers. I was pretty stumped for ideas until I saw little Marta busy unpacking my barber’s kit. I didn’t say anything but out of the corner of my eye, I could see her trying to figure out the electric clippers. She had already laid out all the different clipper attachments in order of size, the scissors and the hair clips (not that I need them) and was now trying to work out how to switch the clippers on. It was like watching ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’, willing the guy in the chair to choose answer B only to see him repeatedly mull over answers A, C or D, burning up all his lifelines asking a friend, the audience, eliminating two wrong answers and still getting it wrong. It was agony. Finally she figured it out and the clippers burst into life with an angry buzz.
Her eyes lit up. Waving the clippers dangerously close to my eyeballs she said, ‘Tio Tom, isso é para cortar o cabelo?’ ‘Yes, Marta,’ I said, ‘this is for cutting hair’. And that is when I had what, in all modesty, I would call a jolly good idea.
‘Would you like to cut my hair, Marta?’
‘I don’t know how’ she said.
‘It’s easy, trust me’.
Look, it was in a good cause and hardly a sacrifice, my hair will grow back. In the spirit of bonding, I had to persuade Alex to start (supposedly to demonstrate to Marta how it was done but really to encourage them to cooperate) and then let the pair of them finish me off.
I realize a haircut is stupid, insignificant, daft but while Marta was whizzing the clippers around my swede, she was in charge for a change. Trust is reciprocated I figured, so by letting her run this noisy and potentially lethal machine round my head (she did draw blood but it was only an ear and to be fair on her, God overlooked barbers when he positioned ears) Marta would start to trust me.
I awoke with a start. Marta was shaking my shoulder. ‘Can I have some tea, please?’ she asked holding up my shorts, evidently an indication I should climb into them. I did and then, holding my hand she led me to the kitchen and I put the kettle on. Blimey, I thought as I checked the time, my first decent night’s kip in ages. It was 6.30 in the morning. We had slept the whole night through.
After we had drunk our tea she announced that we had to brush our teeth,
'Go ahead', I told her.
'No, Uncle, we must do it together,' she said and, taking me by the hand, led me to the bathroom, told me where to get the water from, showed me her toothbrush, inspected mine for quality and cleanliness, frowned at the toothpaste I had squeezed along the side of her brush instead of square on top of the bristles and then after we had brushed, told me to rinse twice because, she told me with the candid innocence of a child, my teeth were horrible. While all this was going on, Alex woke up and came out to find us. Trying to get him to brush his teeth is like trying to persuade a politician to tell the truth. Seeing Marta and I, primed toothbrushes in hand, he dived for his. Having already decided I was inept, Marta squeezed his toothpaste out for him. Afterwards I brewed more tea and fried up a load of scrambled eggs all the while under Marta's critical gaze. 'Why are you putting milk into the eggs, Tio Tom? ', 'Why are you putting the bread into the oven, Tio Tom?', 'What are these, Tio Tom? Mushrooms! Do I like mushrooms, Tio Tom?' 'Can I have skinned tomatoes too? They are not spicy are they, Tio Tom,? I don't like spicy', 'Is that bacon? You eat it for breakfast!' 'Beans! I am not sure I like beans, Tio Tom, but I like soup. And cake. Can we have cake too Tio Tom?'
Quite the little chatterbox this morning. Well worth a head of renewable hair.
|Just a short back and sides, son, easy on the top... I get the feeling my parting is wider than usual...|
|OK, Marta, your turn... not the eyeball, please, the loss of it will ruin my snooker game..|
|How's it look at the back? Does it look OK?|
|I've always fancied Hardy Krüger, can you do me a Hardy Krüger?|
|One can only admire a man hard enough to wear polo neck|
Egg and steak tonight, Undoubtedly Marta will be on hand to tell me how to do it.