Sometimes writing is painful. It is when you gather in tranquility emotions you thought long forgotten, when you astonished realize your skin has been toughened, but is not tough enough yet, when you observe it lined with cracks and scars that go all the way to the foundation of your soul. It’s also when you discover yourself, if you dare to dream of meeting again your heart’s longing, as a spectator of your own life and not anymore as the main character that you once were. It is sometimes both at once. Then it becomes unbearable, and the inevitable question is whether it’s worth.
He was the man on the ground of a Swiss firm, and about twenty years older than I. Let’s call him Colman —that should throw off any clue seekers. He and I quickly became drinking buddies. Several times we tour together to decrepit night clubs frequented by insubordinate rebels, revolting foreigners, well-heeled Lebanese and the like.
At a time with no creed, 5,000 miles away from home, I found his fatherly company quite heartwarming, as the castaway I was, clutching to a warm rock in the middle of a violent and cold ocean of destruction and detachment. He used to speak with the charming black girls, “my future ex wives,” as he called them, in the sweetest tones, with flowery words and classic quotes, and they greatly enjoyed his performance, so much that they usually forgot asking him for drinks. His distinction overflowed, even drunk, amid all that inhumanity, and sometimes, a jazz quintet with a lead sax worrying out a riff on Summertime stopped its interpretation to hear him singing that old Irish songs, so out of place in Monrovia, that he mastered, and I never learnt. I remember myself hopping to hear him to sing that songs every time we came to a club, to finish throwing money around like confetti, as a benevolent Celtic god.
One Saturday night Colman and I returned to the jazz club. Two hot sisters were scheduled to sing that night, but at that moment the jazz quintet was killing BB King’s Woke up this Morning. We took Colman’s usual corner at the bar, and the bottle of Uisce Beatha —the Gaelic term for whiskey that translates to “water of life” as he explained, with his name written on it, and the bottle of JB with mine were soon produced. They were both half empty. Gorgeous smelling hostesses whose job is to do nothing but walk from table to table with an ice bucket filled our glasses. He was in his element.
That was the moment I saw a woman in a table across the room. She was not conventionally beautiful. She was not black. She was mulatto and a bit small by modern standards. Yet she had such poise. And the look on her face was of such rich enjoyment of the goings on that it was infectious. She wore a white T-shirt and jean shorts. She was just deep enough in her cups that her face was flushed and her inner coquette was out and about. I caught her eye.
Colman saw me nodding and smiling to her. He made a discreet inquiry. A cousin in the room talked to a cousin who talked to a cousin. Colman was summoned, and introduced to the small mulatto goodness. They chatted a few moments. Some kind of serious conversation went on between them and the cousins. I was called over. And I was introduced and invited to sit with her. As Colman took his leave to return to his future ex wives he whispered in my ear, “Be good boy, she’s special.” I certainly was in no mood to be good! I wasn’t even sure what good would mean in the circumstances. I had no idea! I tried in any case so I said, “I like that T-shirt.” She giggled and shrugged. We clinked glasses now and then. That seemed to break the ice. Liberians love to clink and drink. A waiter brought over my whiskey bottle and I poured her a stiff one. She knocked it back pretty quick and dared me to another. And yet another. We played slap the hand and we laughed a lot as we sank deeper into our cups. I took off my cap and placed it on his head. She gave me a little soldier’s salute. Eventually I began to hear that buzzing sound in my ears. Maybe you know it, too. All the other sounds in the world recede to some distant horizon and you’re only dimly aware of them. You just hear the buzzing. I’ll be discreet here and just say that Miss Mulatto and I were being indiscreet. That’s when a battery of colored lights penetrated my senses. The disco ball was spinning, the floor was thumping with a hard base, the very air was vibrating with the high volume. And I became aware that the two Hot Babes had taken the stage and were just working up a sweat singing “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” Instead I told her, “I love you,” and for the first time in my life I really meant it. Embraced tightly we left the club, and that single night heaven was on earth.
Next morning a few of us got recalled to the Command in the Embassy at Mamba Point. Another team was on official standby —normally that’s the team that blows out for a contingency operation. But they were not chosen. In the briefing, they actually kind of lied to us, being very vague. They mentioned underwater mines or some craziness. They hinted at Libya. I assumed it was a nuke, because why else are they sending us to Libya? The group left Liberia on Sunday morning.
I sent a message to Miss mulatto, but never got reply. One year later I flew back to Liberia after finished a deployment. Someone told me that Miss Mulatto and Colman got married and lived in Switzerland. Well shit! People like me don’t hold grudges. In Africa all the pretty little flowers are strong, and all friends are loving. Intimately I wish them well.
You know, humor is easy to write. In humor we’re all a happy family. But what can one write about pain? And the inevitable question is whether it’s worth…
Love in the time of war – Dugutigui
In the “Diula” language in Mali, the term « dugutigui » (chief of the village), literally translated, means: «owner of the village»; «dugu» means village and «tigui», owner. Probably the term is the result of the contraction of «dugu kuntigui» (literally: chief of the village).