As you all probably recall, I took under my wing a young local lad of whom I had high hopes. Aged fourteen, as tall as I am but I doubt he would tip the scales at a hundred pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. We went through a dodgy patch together, I had to sack him a few times but, slowly through trial and error, we have found the tasks he likes doing and those better left to me. For example, he hates weeding but will happily clear all the extracted weeds and dispose of them. So I do the weeding and he does the clearing. He has picked up my logical system for washing dishes and no longer sees it as a chore but keeps me on my toes by not placing anything back in the cupboard from which it came. He keeps the fridge stocked with cans of fizzy drinks and milk, knows which are my favourite biscuits, ensures fresh bread is bought every day, sweeps the garden for litter and empties the bins. He even knows when I am running out of cigarettes and, something I never thought I could train an Angolan employee to do, he knocks before he comes in.
Slowly I am teaching him English. Already he is fluent in profanity and is easily getting to grips with simple instructions such as, ‘put it on the table,’ ‘give water to the dogs,’ ‘go to the corner and buy me phone credit,’ and ‘Bugger off, I’m busy.’ I even caught him sitting on the sofa watching cricket, a knowledge and enjoyment of which being pre-requisites of civilised human beings. That is why Americans, no matter how affable and pleasant, can never call themselves truly civilised yet Pakistanis, who spend all their time blowing each other up can. But life is full of such conundrums. Finally, he has accepted my advice and now comes here after school to do his homework sitting on the veranda.
Frank has a brother and two sisters ranging in age from six to twelve. With ever increasing frequency they are coming here to be fed. Márcia always gives Frank essentials such as cooking oil, rice, pulses, fish and meat to take home to guarantee the kids get something to eat but I can understand why they prefer to come here and get the full meat and two veg while watching TV. They don’t even have electricity in the bordão one room shack they call home.
The other day Márcia asked me if she could buy batas. Batas are the little white lab coats that state school children must wear.
‘I thought you had bought school uniforms for Alex?’ I replied. I knew damn well she had because I took a photograph of him dressed up for school. I did not realise he needed batas as well.
‘Not for him,’ she said, ‘for França’s siblings.’
‘Oh.’ I said, ‘of course.’ I could see that this wasn’t all.
‘The kids aren’t allowed to go to school.’ She finally admitted.
‘Why can’t they go to school?’ I was quite perplexed. After all, we are only talking about some tiny little village school up at the comuna about three or four clicks distant.
‘They have no batas..’
‘So buy them batas! I’ve already said yes,’ I interrupted.
‘…and the teachers say they are dirty,’ she finished.
‘Dirty? Dirty by African standards? Blimey!’ I said.
‘They have no one to look after them, to wash them, feed them, clean their clothes. They are orphans!’
With a dead mother and a father like that they’d be better off if they were orphans I thought but Márcia was right. França was doing his best but he has more than enough on his plate for a fourteen year old. Fuck I was angry. This bastard village. They all knew the deceased mother, they grew up with her. Now there isn’t a single friendly neighbour to pop in and see to the kids. So much for the great extended family Africans keep banging on about. And, instead of helping the kids, their bloody teachers deny them an education because they do not have uniforms and stink. But they’ll all go to church and listen to sermons about suffering the children to come to Him. Fuckwits. That’s why I fucking hate religion. All that blasted time, which would have been better spent helping those less fortunate, wasted listening to some pompous self important git telling fairy tales. I had a Jewish mate in the Army. He really wanted to go to a Catholic midnight mass. We were in Germany, the best place to see the opulence of the Catholic church short of the Vatican. Before we went in, I insisted we got tanked and while we were doing that, he asked me what it was like to be a Catholic. ‘Fucking expensive,’ I said downing another large Asbach, ‘you have to pay to get in, pay to stay in, and pay to get out.’ When we got to the church, we discovered that the midnight service had been held at ten so we camped out on the steps and played gin rummy until the early morning mass. I have always said that God hates me, he let the bloody Jew clean me out of a month’s pay.
‘I can pay a neighbour to look after them,’ Marcia continued, ‘it’ll only be a hundred dollars.’
‘Fuck the neighbours,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t piss down their throats if their lungs were on fire much less pay them to do what they should have been doing all along. Scumbags’
It’s just so bloody typical, They won’t do anything unless there’s something in it for them. Think back to when I offered to dig a well for them. The administrator insisted I dug it on his land so, as I learnt just in time, he could charge his villagers for water. Now I have installed a tap by the entrance to the shop so they can help themselves for free.
‘Right,’ I said, ‘tell França that every day he must bring the kid’s dirty clothes with him in the morning. I’ll wash them and if they need more clothes, go and buy them. Before they go to school, they can come here with França and have breakfast. They can eat here in the evenings when they want as usual. They can sit at the table with França and do their homework while he does his. It would be good for Alex too, he can sit down with them and do his homework as well and I can keep an eye on them.’
Márcia could see I was seething. ‘I’ll go and tell França,’ she said.
By the time she got back, all of five minutes later, I’d had a better idea,
Dominginho (França’s younger brother) is Alex’s best friend from the village. The kid is like França was. When I first met França, I thought he was a retard. Then I thought he was deaf. Then I realised the kid just didn’t know how to interact. Anonymity was his protection. If he did not acknowledge the existence of an outside world, it could not hurt him. He was safe in a private little world of his own creation. França laughs a lot now, especially if I accidentally hit myself with a hammer or fall off a ladder. He laughs even more if I get mad at his obvious delight in my discomfort. I have never seen Dominginho smile. It is almost futile asking him anything.
‘Are you hungry?’
‘Yes, do you want something to eat?’
‘Something to eat?’
‘Food, boy, do you want food?’
‘For fuck’s sake França! Find out if your brother wants anything to eat!’
What these kids needed was to get out of the village.
‘Marcia, why can’t we send them to the same school as Alex?’ I hurried on so as not to give her time to object. ‘They can all go together with Alex, come home together and do their homework together. We can feed them, clean them and keep an eye on them.’
Márcia was silent
‘I know we can’t house them, they will have to go home to sleep but, you know…’ I petered out but then finished with a burst of emotion. ‘I just hate the idea of paying a neighbour to look after them and the school on the hill, it’s shit! A shit fucking school with shitty fucking teachers!’
‘The portable generator was too small to run the carpenter's tools,’ Márcia said suddenly.
‘It’s not powerful enough, we have to buy a new one, a bigger one.’
‘Are you saying we can’t afford the school fees?’
‘No Honey, if we have to buy a new one anyway, we could give the old one to them so they have electricity at home. You would just have to remember to change the oil every week.’
That was fucking rich coming from her. The only reason we bought this latest generator was because Márcia gave our emergency generator to the carpenters without telling me so the oil was never changed and it seized. Further investigation of the sudden need for a generator down on the other site when they were already connected to power revealed that what they really needed wasn’t another generator closer to where they were working, but a longer extension cable.
|I'll have three more sets of these, please...|
Well, that’s decided then. The kids will all go to Alex’s school. He will be pleased. There is, however, one teensy problem to be overcome. It appears that the births of the children were never registered. They do not have birth certificates. Officially, they do not exist. The administrators of their new school, unsurprisingly, do like to have sight of a cédula, a child’s registration document, before enrolling them. The question is, can we sober the father up enough to remind him that these are his children and will he stay conscious long enough to make a statement to that effect in front of a registrar? Fortunately, Márcia has said I had best not accompany them on that trip lest the registrar thought something fishy was going on; what’s an old white bloke doing here trying to register some Angolan kids? Whatever the reason, I’m cool with that. I wouldn’t want to ride in the same car as him, I’d tie him to the bloody roof first.
There is one thing that Márcia has not considered; if the kids have no cédula, they have never been inoculated. The new school will also want to see up to date vaccination certificates. I will break that one to her gently. Just think, a bit of legwork followed by a stroke of a pen and Angola’s population will leap by four.
Speaking of having a hand in increasing the population, Márcia went for her first scan the other day. On the one hand, Márcia consistently fails to acknowledge that I do have a lot of experience, I did come top of my entry at Shrivenham so am not completely thick, and I know quite a bit about quite a lot of things but then she surprises me by handing me an ultra sound image expecting me to understand it and explain. I know a lot about the outside of female anatomy but have only ever had a limited feel of the inside.
‘Hmmn,’ I said, completely bewildered, ‘looks good to me. Did they say if it was a boy or a girl?’
‘It’s too early to tell they said. Do you see anything else?’
What’s there to see? What was Márcia driving at? What was I supposed to say? I handed it back to her.
‘They said everything was OK, though, didn’t they?’ I asked her, suddenly worried.
‘They think it might be twins…’
One final thing, sorry to bore the rest of you but Sol, a regular reader has been bleating on about a toe update. I promised her next post so here it is:
|For those of you concerned about the nail varnish, I agree, it is a little gaudy. |
Next time I'm in town, I shall pick up something a little more restrained.