Midnight at the lake, purple stains float towards Antonja, a loathing he feels, a sense of desertion for he is the last. He picks up his Free Rhodesia banner and walks. There are hundreds of coconuts shells, their white inners dead, the water has evaporated into the mouths of many. Ripple after curved ripple he will throw one into the lake. He feels the water, the silt through his palm cooling, a balm for the mineral-rich nights. Seventeen different varieties of shampoo in her bathroom. The windows of the offices open, papers billowing out in groups. Antonja felt so excited at the time. This is a change. Things will be different. As he sat in the Governor's bathtub and read a stack of the manila files.
Colonel Perence Djerban crinkles his way into the bathroom and there is a scene. Two flies watch from the crack in the roof, above which a party is taking place. It continues for days and Antonja is sick several times at the end. The Colonel leans, rubs his dirty hands on the handtowel (which will never be washed again) and addresses the scene.
“Sixteen o'them they get away. Five laid down, evil faced. What he say next? Them jumbo jets useless. The captain he so drunk he never gonna fly for a week.”
“This it. Need this time, you have a few beer, and then we talk tomorrow. Tomorrow better and this bath, it a friend of no one.”
The Colonel stomps and throws the handtowel on the floor. He dislikes pink, reminds him of the gums of that Queen she visited back in '58. He failed to meet her, she unlikely to return, she sit in Buckingham Palace and she eat breakfast cereal.
“Which face we gonna stick on them stamps? I don't want birds, bees and anteaters.”
“Slice whatever you want, the portraits won't be for a while.”
“I will not be licking the back of that Queen any more.”
Ten o'clock at the Hilton Hotel, a concrete den of the world's reporters, those boys who didn't get the pass to Washington, Moscow, or even Luanda. They keen, they spent the last of the old money. Oskar Muller, chief correspondent of the German Democratic Republic official sports magazine, Swimmers Today (Schwimmer Heute), wanders across the tribal rugs (made in Macao) and looks for a clean cup. Sixteen have the remains of the party, three are broken, and the tablecloth is torn as well, he notes, but nothing useful for he has had a tip-off that breaststroke champion Morgan Mfango used to work here, but he is yet to validate it.
“I should like two cups of coffee please.”
“No cafe. Breakfast suspended.”
“Then what is the point of these?” Muller waves a fan of dirty notes, Elizabeth's face looking sad to be treated so badly.
“Many changes. The Italian say there is cafe at the Foreign Club. This is a bad hotel.”
“Saer bad. You are too honest....but wait a moment.”
The lumbering man paused and his eyes looked happy to be considered helpful; when there was nothing, a pool of empty croissants, white napkins used as bandages, the broken panes of glass he had removed that morning from the lobby.
“Such mild violence. When are you people going to get angry? I speak aloud but you know Morgan Mfango, he used to work here?”
“Mfango he is gone. He worked so hard, fifteen hours a day, and I say to him Morgan you work for them, not for yourself. He is gone, last year, he is with the Markists. A fighter? No he is not a fighter. There are no swimming pools in Salisbury.”
Five o'clock in the violet morning of the death of the British Empire. Cassandra speaks loudly to the white-shirted attendant, runs through sixteen different types of spirit but he just shrugs.
“Special wine miss. You like special wine.” She staggers back to the dance floor, a piece of carpet dirtier than the rest, three pale lights illuminating the dancers who have remained to celebrate the decline of King George and all his men. She sniffs a little, feels a blister surfacing on her left heel, and grabs the arm of Roberto Tomaselli. The arm responds and grasps her.
“Give me some of that vodka.”
He tips a few inches into her wine glass and they collapse on a sofa that has been waiting to be decommissioned for several years. It, colourless, is just weary for the corporate overhaul that it hopes will occur soon. It is mistaken, for the Hilton Salisbury is just a erstatz replica, owned by the late Jefferson Hilton, white-hatted lunatic and whose death was sad, but funeral poorly attended for people did not like the way he treated the staff, the family he never had.
Roberto is dozing his head in the arms of Cassandra, and she knows her father will have a busy month ahead and hopefully the nice man at the Central Reserve will be the same one as before the great divide. Roberto starts vodka-dribbling and she prods him in the cheek, gurgles, and then.
“I feel very ill. I am sorry Cassie but I will not be dancing anymore. Perhaps I should go home.” He slumps and continues to dribble. She rests his head on the end of the ambigious sofa and lights a cigarette, the last decent one she has. She puffs several times and the smoke forms a barrier between her and the bar which has been ransacked by the foreign correspondents. A man comes up to her and says something she doesn't understand but she says no and waves her finger and he stops looking at her legs. England is so far away, she remembers just the cold darkness of five years since. Walking in Cambridge squares, a sense of tradition, the buildings like books, she will return, a mission, an aspiration when all else has faded. They retreat to the towers, to champagne introspection, to peer-reviewed journals and a constant worry that something is not right at the heart of England in this year of our Lord Nineteen Eighty.
Antonja walks up to the car, a peachy ripping of the dark, he opens the door and inside finds a newspaper yet to decay Former President Dupont dies aged 72. He puts it on the back seat and drives into the city. The yet-to warm tarmac laid by hundreds of newly democratic friends warms and a long green snake begins to decide sunbathing as Antonja swerves and nearly loses control, he feels queasy a mental jolt, and spins a little as he thinks of nothing but reaching the Central Reserve.
“You want to be an accountant – three jobs here for an accountant.”
“I don't know. Where are they?”
“Here in Salisbury. Good pay.”
Antonja thinks of the future, when he will be about to retire, three children, grey hair, regular visits to the Sports Club, and a life spent of numbers, adding, taking away and the endless lists.
“Excuse me! Is anyone working here?”
A shuffle, adjustment of heavy spectacles and the window lumbers up to Antonja's suitcase bulk.
“We're closed today sir. National holiday.”
“But the door is open.”
“Bart he left it open. Please can you close it tomorrow. If you want new banknotes you have to wait until next week. No foreign transfers either.”
“You know Morgan Mfango. He works here?”
Antonja studies the man speaking. He wears pale blue trousers, white shirt and is trying very hard not to sweat. He, unshaven, and the stubbles lie like iron shavings, pulled around by a mischievous magnet.
Djerban sees the traffic from the window of the Interior Ministry, it fascinates him, he has been watching for several hours, the slow movements, the broken truck, bicycles weave in and out and it will be a tedious process to resurface the roads, build new highways. This is progress but he prefer the 1970s, chance to say a lot and do very little. He looks at the bookcase in the study that he has claimed. A lot of Shakespeare, technical reports, and a few holiday brochures. He thinks of the new army. He looks forward to his new army.
James Mansfield © 2011