About a year ago I noticed in amongst the usual crowd of excited children collecting water at the stand pipe, a tiny toddler. Skinny, slight of frame, clad only in an old pair of raggedy shorts and filthy dirty, he was only remarkable for two reasons; first, he was being treated pretty bloody shabbily by his companions and second, he looked very much a miniature version of Alex.
Little Rodrigues was the unplanned, but surely not entirely surprising, issue of a union between a married mother of the village, and an itinerant Portuguese labourer. Sadly, the lad was also very much unwanted. His colour, of course, pretty much gave the game away and this ambulatory proof of his mother’s infidelity wasn’t particularly well received. Her lack of compassion for him translated into abuse from his peers.
I have been known to hand out a sweet or two to kids struggling under the burden of a full bucket of water and these little gifts were always politely received. If I miscounted the number present (so very easy to do, especially as their numbers always seemed to multiply as soon as the doces appeared) and there were too few sweets, they shared. I was shocked, therefore, that every sweet I handed this toddler was quickly snatched away. He wasn’t guided by the tender clasp of an older sibling’s hand, he was tugged and pulled and shouted on his way. He so badly wanted to belong but stood forlorn, isolated within a crowd. It was heart-breaking; the colour of his skin, after all, was hardly his fault.
But there was nothing much I could do about it. No, seriously, what the hell could any reasonable person expect me to do? I could hardly throw my weight around in his mother’s house. That is their way, their culture, I have to respect this. So long as they stopped short of murder and weren’t physically abusing the boy too much (beating kids, and women, is normal here) all I could do was feel sorry for him.
Mini-Alex is now three and, as parents here allow, is considered old enough to wander about the village on his own. I was delighted when a few days ago I noticed a little figure shyly watching me from behind a tree in my garden (the sandpit I optimistically refer to as my garden).
Despite what you may have read, I am not very good with children. I have found it best to treat them as I do animals. Show them who is boss, be fair, reward good behaviour, chastise bad but don't beat, and add a healthy dollop of affection. Men could do worse than treating their wives the same way. You do not gain the trust of a skittery wild creature by marching up to it. If you are lucky enough to spot it before, at your appearance, it buggers off sharpish into the bush, it is important to behave naturally; just carry on with whatever it was you were doing. It was probably that which aroused the creature’s curiosity anyway.
So I ignored the boy save for a nod and a smile in his direction and before long he was in and out the house as if it was his home. He does like his glass of milk and he definitely likes my European food. I don’t suppose he has ever eaten ice cream before, he likes that a lot. Other children pitch up here as well, no doubt some of the lad’s tormentors. Fort Hippo, though, is Switzerland. Well, not quite. There’s not much snow here and unlike the Swiss, I will clip the ears of rule breakers. At Fort Hippo, all men are equal so long as they behave themselves and show courtesy to their fellows. The kids are all nice to Mini Alex when he's here.
Marcia, who had been away in town for a few days and only got back the night before last, was a little surprised, pleasantly though, to see Mini Alex so comfortable in our surroundings. Naturally, she could not resist having a dig at me, referring to how we white boys stick together.
‘Well we bloody need to with all the shit you lot give us, don’t we!’ I said, a tadge aggrieved.
The opportunity for revenge was swift in coming. I had given the kids a sweet each. The local equivalent of a Bounty bar, sticky sweet coconut covered in chocolate. As usual, all the other kids except Alex (who knows at what peril he litters the house) made only half-hearted attempts to toss the torn wrappers onto the coffee table. Most end up on the floor. Not Mini Alex’s, though. He eased himself off his chair and his feet onto the ground, toddled over to the bin wherein he disposed of his wrapper.
‘Did you see that!’ Marcia exclaimed.
I feigned ignorance. I had seen it and was just as stunned. All Angolans toss litter; along with stoning dogs they learn to do so as soon as they can walk.
‘See what Darling?’
‘Rodrigues just threw his sweet wrapper into the bin!’
‘Did he? Well why wouldn’t he?' I asked, 'He’s half white…’
Having bored most of you with my last few posts, which have been rather more technical than fluffy, I feel I should warn you I am about to do so again in my next post (not this one, today is Snuggly Sunday). The factory in Italy, rather sooner than I expected, want to start production of my wood working machines and for this they need the final specification. The final specification depends on the tooling and for this I need advice. Anyway, all that going through my mind prevented me from sleeping last night and I was still sorting through tooling catalogues and spread sheets at four this morning.
About two weeks ago was another occasion I couldn’t sleep, not because I was preoccupied but because I could have sworn I heard whimpering. Not just any whimpering, but the worrying kind that comes from places it shouldn’t, in this case from under the house. Once bitten, twice shy; naturally I wasn’t particularly keen on venturing under a house in the tropics at night. It is one thing facing down an irate viper from my full height of six feet, quite another to be eyeballing it on all fours with mosquitoes nipping the old bum. In the end, though, there was no way I could ignore such plaintive and weak pleas for help so, spurning my rattler proof flip flops in favour of a towel round the waist, I crawled under the house hoping the stench of fear would keep the gribbly gremlins away.
How the hell it got there, I have no idea. It was too small to have crawled far from anywhere and as soon as I scooped it up it tried to suckle my fingers. Poor bugger, heaving with fleas and covered in insect bites, his eyes and mouth encrusted with dirt. Charlie and his bitches were enough for me, I didn’t want another dog but sometimes they pick you, and there’s sod all a decent chap can do except dig out the warm milk and syringe.
Last night Rocky kept me company. Alex came up with the name. Alex has never met the youngest of my two brothers but he has seen pictures of him. Christopher does bear a striking resemblance to Sylvester Stallone and if we ever manage to get him on Skype (Chris that is, not Mr. Stallone), Alex would discover he sounds like him too. Chris spent a long time with the US Military and went so native he even bought something called an ‘I Rock Zee’. It was big, and as bright blue as a baboon’s bottom. His must have been a very technical job for he was forever rushing off in PT kit to ‘work out’ something. Alex is into punching lumps off his punch bag and likes the Rocky films so when it came time to name the future guard dog of all my wood working tools and machinery, Rocky seemed as good a name as any. Better than Sylvester. No wonder Stallone grew up handy with his fists.
|I suppose here I shouldn't be surprised, asleep on duty.