|"Payment in installments for the uniforms? You always have a nice little joke for me, Sir. |
I shall just invoice you at the end of the month as usual"
I spoke to Dominic yesterday morning before his exam.
'I did what you told me to do,' he said. 'I didn't revise last night and I slept with my books under my pillow,' he reminded me (oh yeah, THAT advice).
'I thought your exam was supposed to start at nine?' I asked him.
'The exams started at Nine, Daddy, but they are doing it by year. There's some younger boys ahead of me so I guess I will be starting in about an hour as I am Grade Nine'.
Crikey. I remember how nervous I used to be before an exam. Imagine pitching up all ready to go and then being told to get in a queue. An Embasssy with all its formality can hardly present an atmosphere conducive to calming the beating heart of a fourteen year old, never mind the poor nine year old who was wheeled in first.
'Well, good luck son, call me as soon as you have finished'
And so started the long wait.
Hours later, the phone rang.
'It was easy, Daddy!'
'Yup. Piece of cake!'
He babbled on, more enthusiastic than I had heard him in a long time but he was making no sense.
'Can I talk to your Mother, please Dominic?' I asked him.
'He did well then,' I said as Bina came onto the phone, 'but when do we get the official results?'
'Could be as soon as Tuesday but he did impress the interviewers'
'I thought if he passed he would be going to Portugal in September but he was babbling on about having to go there soon?'
'Ah, yes, I didn't realise that either,' Bina continued, 'this was just the first stage. If he passes this one he has to go to Portugal for final selection'.
Goodness, the poor sod, he wants this so bad and the agony drags on. 'And how long is that?'
FOUR DAYS! Four days to select kids for a school? And they have to fly in from Lusophone countries all over the world? For goodness' sake, that's tougher than the Regular Commission's Board.
'And his fees will need paying as soon as he is accepted'. Of course. The Portuguese are slow at everything except when it comes to receiving money.
'Can you get Dollars out of the country?' I asked Bina, 'you know I am still not a resident so I am having a few problems on that score'. Right now I am trying to get a measly five grand out so I can bid on a bronze and I have until Tuesday to do it. So far it is not looking good.
'No problems', she said, 'get the money to me as soon as you can. Have you renewed Dominic's UK passport?'
'Yes', I lied.
Now there's a rush job for me next week. I wonder if the British Embassy still sends all applications for new and replacement passports to South Africa? If so, I am deep, deep in the shit because that'll take bloody ages. And it isn't as if I can ask for any special favours having, as a recluse, steadily ignored the dwindling invitations to British Embassy functions over the last couple of years. Oh, woe is me. I doubt I even have a suit left I can stuff my corpulence into. And, I have just remembered, I gave my blazer away to Eddie because he needed one and I thought I wouldn't need it anymore. Bollocks. I am being dragged back into the real world.
'I'll have the money and passport dropped round sometime next week', I said at the same time rejecting the idea of asking my ex-wife to get the five grand out for the bronze lest she start asking about overdue maintenance payments.
'Apparently there is a recommended tailor in Lisbon who fits them out for their uniforms, once I have the list I shall send it to you'
I'll have to call Roddie to bring the car. There is no way I am driving all the way into the city. This'll take more than a day. I can't face the drive in and out of that hell hole two days on the trot so I'll need somewhere to overnight. Christ, I haven't been in the city for nearly three years. For two years I have never been further than three kilometres from the Barra de Kwanza. I know, I'll bunk with Klein. As he's a sixty three year old German bachelor, he won't try and drag me out on the town.
I don't know why, but I rang my Mother. I haven't spoken to her in, ooh, I don't know how long, Dominic must have been three or four so that is over ten years. I could not remember her telephone number so I had to look it up on the BT website. I kidnapped my son, got him out of Angola and tried to hand him over to my mother in UK who refused, so after a worldwide round trip, I eventually gave up in Cape Town and paid the consequences. Naturally, I lost custody of the boy and had to take a bit of a hard time from the authorities. There's a bit of history between my Mother and I as a result.
It's a long time since I rang a UK number but the ringtone is distinctive. Then a woman answered.
'I'm not sure if I have the right number', I said, 'I want to speak to a Mrs Gowans'
It didn't sound like my Mother so I thought I had better test the voice further.
'Do you have a son in Germany and one in Africa?'
'Who is this and what do you want?' she replied.
Well, that definitely sounded like my mother, thick German accent and all.
'It's Andy, your son', I said.
There was a pause.
'Andi? Wo bist du?'
I explained to her that I was still in Africa, that Dominic was trying for the Portuguese Military Academy, that little Alex was a horse of a man and that Marcia, the black girl she had refused to meet, the mother of the whore’s spawn, as she had described the issue of my loins, was lovely. She confesssed that she was seventy six and hated being old. We spoke for an hour. I had to recharge my phone another time with my last card and as I heard the beeps warning me even that charge was running out I explained my phone was about to die. I wasn’t hanging up on her, I had run out of credit.
‘I’m sorry’, she said, ‘tell Dominic…’ and the line was dead.
Today is Sunday. All the shops are closed. I cannot buy any more recharge cards until tomorrow unless I do a 140km round trip to the city. Bugger that.
Was she sorry because my phone had run out of credit? Was she merely about to be polite regarding my son’s exams? Or was she sorry for letting me down when I turned up desperate with my little boy ten years ago begging for someone to look after him until I got myself organized? Was she sorry that as a result I was condemned to stay in this truly awful place, not as a normal citizen but as an officially expelled undesirable staying here under licence with no rights whatsoever? Was she about to finally acknowledge her half black grandson by wishing him good luck?
To be honest, I have more serious issues to deal with, starting with Dominic’s passport. If he has breezed the exam as he seems to think he has, then I don’t want to be the one who lets him down because I was too bloody idle to renew it.