Back in 1997, I went to a State Wedding here in Angola. It was attended by the Angolan Prime Minister, various other Ministers; it was attended by anybody who was anybody in Angolan politics and business, several Ambassadors and more beautiful women than I have ever seen together in one place. The Bride was given away by her Godfather, the President’s Spokesman who had arranged everything. The ceremony took place in the Portuguese Embassy followed by an evening reception held at the XL restaurant, the ruling party’s favourite feeding hole. Transport for the happy couple from the Embassy to the reception was in the Presidential motor cavalcade, top of the range bullet proof Mercedes cars complete with armed security tooled up to their eyeballs all wearing sunglasses in the dark, while police motorcycle outriders stopped the traffic and cleared the road ahead.
How on earth, you might well ask, did I get an invite to such a prestigious wedding? Well, the answer is quite simple really, I was the groom. The girl would end up being Dominic’s mother.
Now I had absolutely no idea who she was when I first asked her out. To me she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. When it comes to women, I am terribly shy. I just know, even before opening my mouth, I am going to say something stupid so generally tend to keep it shut which is at complete odds with the uninhibited stream of profanities I can pour over a soldier stepping out of line.
The wedding was, for me, a traumatic experience. For a start it happened so suddenly. One minute I was shagging a local girl, next, having received an offer I was advised not to refuse, I was sitting in the Presidential Club on the top floor of the BPC Bank with Aldemiro Vaz de Conceição, the girl’s Godfather, and his bodyguards having a man to man chat which, as I recall, was pretty one way. It was all the more bemusing for me as I still hadn’t a clue who this guy was but I did notice the service, in a country known for the lethargy of its catering staff, was outstanding. The food was good too. As I rode home on my motorcycle through the still smashed streets of Luanda, I had a little think. In those days when I was in the city and not in the field, I tended to work late. So I had still been in my office when I received the telephone call not to go home but to proceed immediately to the Presidential Club, tell the Maître D I was someone called ‘Aldemiro’s’ guest and then sit down and wait for him.
I was shown to a comfortable smoking area and invited to relax in an example of the soft, voluminous leather armchairs favoured in these climes. Everyone around me was dressed in black tie or lounge suit. I was still dressed in the dusty and very sweaty safari shirt and slacks I had been wearing all day. I was asked what I wanted to drink. I wasn’t asked ‘if’ I wanted something to drink, I was asked ‘what’ I wanted to drink. It was a subtle order. In my pocket I had about twenty dollars in Kwanzas. That’s about how much a glass of mineral water cost in this place.
‘I’ll have a large scotch,’ I replied, ‘No ice or water and can I have an ashtray, please?’
In those days there were no such things as mobile phones, not in Angola anyway, so I was on my own.
The place was damn popular. As I sat there, I could see plenty of smart people coming and going, all of them being greeted with a rather tacky servitude by the Maître D who, after he refilled my whisky glass for the third time without me asking, I decided wasn’t a bad bloke after all. So I decided that I would call him over and confess I couldn’t pay for the drinks I had consumed but I could leave him my passport and be back the following morning and settle. He looked pained.
‘You are a guest,’ he said.
‘Have you got any single malts?’ I asked.
Before I could explore the shelves of his bar, however, four guys pitched up all of whom were immaculately dressed, three of them wearing sunglasses. Here is a tip. If you want to take a security team out and kidnap the principle, just aim for sunglasses. If you have been contracted to take the principle out, just shoot the guy who’s smiling and not wearing sunglasses. Dead easy and it saves ammunition which, if you have to fire, kind of lets everyone know you’re the bad guy. The best part about all this, by the way, was that I was armed. Seriously, I had a loaded Makarov in my pocket. It was a lovely weapon no thicker than a pack of cards. 9mm short, only carried eight rounds but was easily concealed and any bulges in my trousers were just as easily explained with the wink of an eye. It was a Russian copy of the original James Bond Walther PPK and I loved it. You’re not going to win a war with one, it’d be hard pressed to shoot through a wet blanket or a rain soaked overcoat but it could just buy you enough time to get you out of a scrape. Besides, it was part of my contract to be armed all the time, even then, off duty.
The Maître D went into servile mode. When I met him about an hour before, he struck me as quite a hefty bloke. Now I was amazed to see him no more than four inches tall. Bigwigs, I thought as I took another slug of whisky and lit up again. There was a bit of a conversation and the Maître D shrank another inch or so before pointing at me. The sunglasses spread out to cover the smoking salon. Sans sunglasses came over to me.
‘Sr, Tomás?’ he enquired.
‘That’s me,’ I said struggling out of the armchair my sweaty shirt, with all that air-conditioning had glued me to.
‘Let’s go to our table’
I reached for my fags and the half empty whisky glass.
The Maître D plucked quickly at my hand. ‘No Smoke! No Drink!’ he whispered.
The table was perfect for two people either side, positioned as it was right next to the window giving a panoramic view over Luanda Bay, the finest natural harbour on the West African coast, coveted at that time by both the Soviets and the United States.
Aldemiro sat comfortably on one side while I sat sandwiched between his two colleagues. Since most right handed shooters carry their hog legs under their left arms I knew the guy to my right against whom I was so uncomfortably pressed was tooled up so I assumed the guy to my left was as well. If the guy to my right could feel the very slight bump of my Makarov, he didn’t say anything so I guess he just assumed I was a typically small white man.
Anyway, Aldemiro paid the bill and I married his Goddaughter. It did not last.
A couple of weeks ago, Marcia came home all excited and said we had been invited to a wedding. She was thrilled.
‘I’m not going,’ I said, ‘I hate weddings’
A few days ago she came in and told me that if I did not go to the wedding, Tia Patricia (Aunt Patricia) would be disappointed.
‘Tell her to nip down the QM’s and draw herself a tough shit chit,’ I said, ‘I’m not going to no bloody wedding’
Marcia started to cry. Marcia never cries. There are plenty of women who turn on the taps if they don’t get their own way but Marcia knows better than to try that one on with me. I was suddenly devastated. I even turned the volume down on the TV.
‘Marcia,’ I said, ‘look at me. I am fat! I do not have a suit that fits anymore. Do you really want me to embarrass you by turning up looking like a sackful of potatoes tied up in the middle? Besides, I am not risking a drive to the city’
Marcia turned up this afternoon.
‘Tia Patricia has bought you a new outfit; suit, shirt and tie, and wants you to go to the wedding.’
‘Marcia,’ I said leaning back in my chair, ‘who is Tia Patricia?’
‘She’s my Aunt.’
‘Apart from being your Aunt. I mean, what does she do?’
‘Oh, she is PA to General Kopelipa but she used to be PA to Miala until he went to jail for that coup attempt but now that Miala is out again she is going to go back to working for him.’
Marcia mistook my stunned silence for indifference so continued. ‘They’ll all be there, Kopelipa, Aldemiro, Miala...’ Marcia ran off a list of Who’s Who in Angola. ‘Tia Patricia says you really have to attend, Miala says he remembers you.’
‘I take it Tia Patricia is from Uige as you are?’
‘Yes! And so is Miala and so is Anibal Rocha, he used to live in my Father’s house, and so is…’ The list was endless.
How the fuck do I do it? When I first met Marcia I thought she was just some girl back home on leave from her studies in Belgium. In the time we have been together I found out that she had lived in Marbella, worked in Venezuela and was generally very well-travelled. I knew she spoke Flemish from her time in Belgium but I only learnt she spoke French when Brussels Airlines refused to board Dominic when we were returning from a holiday in Germany because of a problem with his documentation. The airline were implacable until Marcia spotted the French Ambassador to Angola, yes, you guessed it, a friend of hers who vouched for Dominic’s bona fides. Now I find she is either related to, or friends with half of Angola’s elite.
There was no bloody way I was going to get out of this. But, if what Patricia was saying was true, I would get the chance to buttonhole Miala about my residency. I must confess a little unease to calling attention at the highest levels of Government to my continued dodgy status here but, carpe diem and all that.
‘How long will it last?’
‘The ceremony will be at 12.30 and then the reception will go on until whenever,’ Marcia told me.
I groaned inwardly. ‘Until whenever’ is Angolan for ‘until breakfast the following day’.
‘Look,’ I said, ‘it is going to be a long and sweaty day for me in a suit. There is one suit I can still climb into, can’t we have that one dry cleaned and then I can ask Henry if he can put us up for the night meaning we can go there after the ceremony and shower and I can change into Patricia’s suit before going to the reception?’
‘No need to talk to Henry,’ said Marcia, ‘We have a room booked in the hotel where the reception will take place’
‘The Conference Hotel in Talatona!’ I squeaked, ‘I can’t afford that!’ It’s about 700 bucks a night to stay there. Breathing costs extra, by the way.
‘Darling,’ Marcia cooed, ‘Patricia is paying for everything!’
‘Alright, sweetheart, of course I will go’ I said making a mental note to locate the hipflasks of mine missing since the move.
All the time we had been talking, Marcia was clasping what I thought was a small silk clutch bag embellished with a bejewelled clasp bought, presumably, as an accessory to the outfit she was going to wear.
‘Marvellous,’ exclaimed Marcia, ‘here is your invitation,’ she said handing me the clutch bag.
Then Marcia dropped the final bombshell.
‘By the way,’ she added while I was still awed by the invitation, ‘we will be photographed by Cara Magazine.’ Cara (Face) Magazine is the Angolan equivalent of ‘Hello Magazine’. My ex-wife reads that. I am way behind in my alimony payments. I am supposed to be poor, now she reads of me hob-knobbing it with the rich and famous. Then an even more disturbing thought occurred to me. There was every chance I might run into her…
Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, Morieris. VERY loosely translated as: Ask not for whom the Division Bell tolls.
Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, Morieris. VERY loosely translated as: Ask not for whom the Division Bell tolls.