French Equatorial Africa

1805

 

The River's mouth disgorges life in every form conceivable, like some none-too-choosy reptile, a regurgitating snake whose meals, through miles of overfeeding on the jungle's lush abundance, range from crocodile, tortoise, otter, lizard, catfish, parrot, eel, to even more exotic offerings; pangolin, antelope, monkey, bat, each brought to market on flotillas of liana-linked pirogues that off-load smorgasbords of roasted insects, roots, nuts, fruits, and greens. Assorted lilies, pounded plantains, cashews, manioc, piles of palm grubs spill from baskets, satchels, leather pouches, clay pots, burlap sacks, hauled up and hoisted over shoulders, acrobatically borne on heads, or portaged papoose-style in slings of bark, of wicker, or of local homespun...

 

... to the unmelodic strains of squealing piglets, squalling babies, crowing cocks, and butchers' chopping blocks resounding with machetes. We see eaters and the edible mix their blood, sweat, spit, and tears, creating tributaries trickling from a million lesser sources to an all-sustaining great one. Giver of Gifts—goods, ways, and means—the River stretches, in its fertile flow, unbroken like a memory that extends as far in distance as it reaches back in Time.

 

Amid the swarthy throng of those engaged in trade, one stands out starkly. A priest—in jet robes, ruddy-skinned—plows through the crowd assembled round a hawker touting remedies cut from a viper's carved up hide. Competitors holler jeers and insults—no heed paid to the apparition thrusting elbows left and right to navigate steps, surmount a quay, and greet a landing party all-but-lost in the port-side pandemonium—seeming blind to him whose grudging progress brings him to a boil that steams his brow and inky vestments, leaves him limp and short of breath, at length compels him to invoke an oath; Jehovah's name employed as a last-gasp means to demand that the Black sea part.

 

Father Eustace

Goddamn it, yield!

 

His use of English is in vain, as he expects, of course, it would be, in a setting where the lingua franca bows to fleur-de-lis.

 

Captain Crowe

The French are much more sympathetic to the gears and wheels of commerce, whereas Brits do all they can, through endless rules, to gum the works.

 

This is a tidbit from the Captain to his inattentive client—who is grappling with an overload of unfamiliar stimuli .

 

Father Eustace

A l'Afrique, bienvenu! I bid you welcome, Sirs, to Africa.

 

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: There's a scene, as I recall, where Father Eustace...

 

VJ: John O'Connell.

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: ... gives a fire and brimstone sermon that was done...

 

VJ: Extempore. Not a single frame of "C.O.C." was scripted in a formal sense. That sermon even less so; John-O's mother wit adlibbed.

 

{It was hysterical as it happened. John was somewhat 'in his cups'the gin-and-tonic cure for tropical heat his chosen form of therapy. Still, they let him have his head and he unleashed this STREAM of gospel that was so devout it maybe WAS inspired by the Divine. Of course they 'trimmed' it in the final cut but the gist was left intactthe "Cathartic Creed of Christ," we called it, due to the stink it made. In particular, the Catholic Church took offense at our "apostasy." Clergy fueling the slave trade? Hush my mouth; our film got banned.}

 

"Entire religions were in place before the Christians conquered Africa."

"Not again, Graham. Please, my head hurts. Can't we beat a different horse? How about a back rub?"

I was CRIPPLEDwent to sleep without my blankie in our 'top-of-the-line' hotel beside this air-con on the blink. Kicked in for one night, then broke down like every other Western comfort. What a rat trap. What a SWAMP; found goddamn FROGS inside the fridge! I threw a diva's fit about that one, I can tell you. HUGE amphibians. And the manager had the gall to call me "White" when I complained. He said "Wazungu" under his breath, which means "Caucasian" in Swahili. "Uppity nigger," I fired back and watched his face fall. I was pissed. The roles of men and women in "deepest darkest"... no, don't get me started. It was gender, more than race, that spurred this chauvinist's insult—PRICK—just couldn't STAND to be chewed out by a liberated female.

Hm; where was I?

Oh, yeah; Graham and his INSISTENCE on philosophizing trivia. If the man DID have a fault, it was the pride he took in yammering. All I wanted was a neck massage; instead I got a screed...

"But, like the native faiths found everywhere, they were mowed down, bulldozed under. It's the vanity of the victors and the shame of those they vanquish that instills the false impression that might makes right. Might only makes enemies."

"May I quote you?"

"Just imagine how it feels to be confronted by a rival armed with rifles; you've got spears and shields; their swords against your knives. The folks with better arms conclude that their technology is superior—which, in turn, suggests that they themselves are tops in every sphere, while those defeated call to question all the attributes that have failed them, from their insufficient weaponry to the Faith that came up short, humiliation being the pike that pokes the hole in their self-confidence; whereas hubris makes the victor's pride, in direct proportion, swell, the upshot being both sides trash the losing culture—using nothing more than might to gauge one's gifts, the other's flaws. And the result of that is nowhere acted out with more ruination than here in Africa, where this cockeyed double helix all began. If I could travel back in Time to when our species took that step from a subsistence mode of thinking to one that celebrates excess profits, I would sound a warning so apocalyptic folks would have to heed..."

"Or lock you up for the kook you are and throw away the key."

 

I made a joke of Graham's romantic notions then, but he was serious. It had been a grueling shoot that day: John's sermon, then the blessingwhich were dovetailed, in the final cut. Graham's call included both. Not much to do in either. Mug a bit. Throw focus to O'Connellwho was substituting Brooklynese for French at every turn.

 

We see a motley congregation, few in number, mostly Black, with token crewmen sent on 'church detail' by Captain Crowe, plus Barnaby, in a mud and stucco structure lined with pews, a roof of thatch, and glassless window frames agape to ease the inside swelter. (Were movies capable of exuding scents to reinforce their images, we might wilt amongst the armpit humors trapped. No fan. No breeze.)

 

The whitewashed House Of Worship prickles with a gloom-and-doomsday rant that offers fractious hospitality to its flock and honored guests, the converts struggling to decode their pastor's heavy foreign accent, while the shipmates roll their eyes in pantomimed disdain. Some scoff; some smirk, offending no one more than Barnaby, his demeanor doubly critical: first of Eustace and his wayward text—distorting Revelations; then of men whose lack of etiquette he deplores—how dare they sneer! Although these judgments do not pass his lips; drawn tight, his mouth stays shut, his private prayers aimed well above this heathen rank and file, this windy Shepherd—who keeps turning up the volume of his French to head off strays (each phrase projected on the screen in a steady stream of subtitles).

 

Father Eustace

(Thus I stood upon the ocean sand and, gazing out to sea, espied a beast rise up, having seven heads, ten horns affixed to each, and upon these horns ten crowns, and upon all heads a name emblazoned) Blasphemy!

 

Using English like a cheat employs his shill to grab attention, Father Eustace tweaks the ears of those whose French is under par.

 

Father Eustace

(And lo the beast I saw was like unto a leopard) claws extended (mouth as wide as a roaring lion's) breathing hellfire, dragon-fashion (to deceiveth them that dwell on earth by means of phony miracles, whilst he causeth all, both free and bond, to receive a mark) right here...

 

The Preacher indicates his forehead, where his thumb inscribes an X.

 

Father Eustace

(... thereby declaring that none might buy or sell, save he that bore the mark, the name of the beast, or the number of his name.)

 

Conspiratorial, now, the 'Padre' makes his pitch.

 

Father Eustace

(It is the number of a man, six hundred threescore men and six, our goodly quota of the misbegotten souls allied to him, the beast whose voice is of the dragon which doth blaspheme, every breath an exhortation to abjure the Lamb of God, our Lord and Savior, who would counselhear ye, hear yeseize the Devil, turn him out, and turn his minions in to these, our worthy chasteners.)

 

Arms outspread, the gloating Priest commends his pastorate to the sailors (sans their Captain).

 

Crowe's predictable absence suddenly is amended by techniques through which both time and place dissolve (with fife and drum accompaniment)...

 

... reconvening in a situation similar, if removed, the pulpit traded for a lean-to on a riverside-village outskirts. Father Eustace, dressed in climate-conscious white instead of black, bestows his blessing (X replaced by Sign-of-the-Cross to stress God's Will), as well-armed crewmen pass; the man-hunt march begun.

 

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: I'm confused; you shot in East and Western Africa?

 

VJ: And in Newark; don't forget New Jersey. Love ya, Garden State!

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: But the film itself keeps mainly to the coast. So how does Barnaby get to Kenya?

 

VJ: Barnaby doesn't. Nobody does. The movie only calls for Crowe and crew to make the journey inland. Cameroon, in the eighteen hundreds, bear in mind, was rich in game. In fact, the whole of Africa TEEMED, until Man's population mushroomed. And the Europeans ushered in the trappings of today: deforestation, nonstop hunting, poaching, mineral exploitation; you know, modern man's 'regard' for pristine landscapes? Good-bye herds. To find an ecosystem these days stocked with birds and beasts is rare. Except in Tanzania, maybe. Easy access, was the issue. In Kenya, there were better roads and life supports. Through Nairobi.

 

{Though the Bronx Zoo might have better served our need to keep down costs.}

 

Did you detect mistakes in any of our locations?

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: I've never been to Africa.

 

VJ: Which is how we got away with what we did; I mean, who has? I suppose the residents might have noticed we took liberties with geography. But the film was made by the West, for the West, from a Western point of view.

 

{It's all mirages—lenses and tubing; flicks are fantasies; NOTHING'S actual. Motion pictures are deceptive more than instructivean argument Graham refuted our first night in camp...}

 

"What's real, Vel? Think about Time. Clocks don't begin to solve its riddle. If anything, wristwatches handcuff perception. Is's and isn'ts are functions of mind. Our brains give the best clue to how life is structured. Thoughts don't just queue up in straight single file; first first, second second, third third, taking turns. They bounce back and forth. At least mine do. Don't yours? Aren't past, present, future, in fact, now, now, now? We depend on our recall of what was to guide us through what is in order to live what will be, but the sequence is fickle. We live in the moment. And rarely do moments proceed A B C. As we think of them, anyway. As we express them. What could be more real than that, besides film?"

Graham would ramble, just sound off on long-winded monologues. Highly articulate. All unrehearsed. While I'd stand in awe of his verbal agility, tongue-tied—feeling dumb by comparison.

"That's ridiculous. People who suffer from flashbacks are ILL. I mean, sure our minds zigzag and wander and space out, but time marches on; it won't wait. Tick, tock, tick."

But the man was CONVINCED there were actual links between film loops and life cycles, screenplays and truths; and he set out to prove it in a strange way, succeeding... at the time, though, I thought he was nuts.

 

We were traveling by four-wheel-drive jeep in a convoy from downtown Nairobi to our camp in the park on a road that was SO rough we mostly drove parallel. The shoulders were smoother, even footpaths more passable. ANYTHING to avoid cracking axlesand tailbonesbeat weaving through crater-size potholes en route, eating dirt by the mouthfulYuk!eyelids like dust catchers; mine looked mascaraed or maybe outlined with kohl. And the temperature climbed every mile we descended. The Riftlike Death Valleystores heat. Low means boil. Or bake, in the dry season. I got dehydrated; parched as a salt flat, my pores clogged with grit, my tits turned to Jell-O, butt numb, hair a fright, when finally, at long last, we arrived... I 'assumed,' from the increase in critters. Wildebeest, zebra, giraffe; I mean HORDES of them. Loose, too, no barbed wire partitions or fences. Just roaming, all around us, like they've done for millennia. Pretty impressiveif I hadn't been car sick. Graham, like some kid in a pet shop, just beamed. He was gawking, in fact, with such wide-eyed enchantment, he nearly got bounced from his driver's side seaton the left, that is. Mahmoud, our chauffeur, sat rightwith me in the back tending luggage. MINE, mostly. Graham, true to form, came with nary a stitch. He'd gone native. "INDIGENOUS" was how he described it. This was Graham's "homecoming," strange as that seems. I flashed on the times he'd looked so out of context: New York, where we first met, then later in Jersey. Douala, I must say, came closer than either to a place where the White boy from Illinois fit. But Kenya was pay dirt. From day one, Graham blossomed. The moment he breathed in those Rift Valley dust devils, ogled its wildlife, its vastness, he changed. Like a spell had come over him. I know; sounds hokey. But SOMETHING inside that man's consciousness clicked. And Graham became peaceful, more easy to be withexcept for the fact he was more apt to drift... losing touch with the rest of us; that part was spooky...

"Graham, sit! You'll fall!"

Could have broken his neck! We had slowed to a crawl, but the jeeps were still moving, when Graham simply stood up and bailed. Who knows why? Attracted by nothinga shrub in the twilighthe stepped, no, it seemed more like 'floated' to the roadside, then sleepwalked his way toward this nondescript tree. Incredible! Brakes slammed, horns blared, tires swerved or skidded. All down the line people hollered. Unfazed, Graham just kept right on going, completely oblivious. Until one of usMahmoud, I think it wascollared him.

"Sir? Please, you stop?"

Graham came round to his senses. While everyone else seemed to take leave of theirs: "Didn't he realize...?" "So much was riding..." "How could he jeopardize...?" "Weren't we a team?" Ha! If Graham was our teammate, then why did we fail him? The man needed help; we made wisecracks instead. He'd "gone gaga," we teased; the rough road "shook a screw loose." Yet no one, not one single soul, intervened.

I take that back; Scott did Scott Forbes, our director. And I, of course, put in MY two cents worth.

" PLEASE ! If you feel like you're losing your grip, would you tell us? Give a nudge; nod your head; flash a sign?"

We were friends; I could talk like that. Scott had more clout, though. When HE pulled an actor aside, words weren't minced...

"So you're sure you're okay, Graham?"

"Yeah, fine."

"Did you see something?"

"Yeah. No. Well, maybe."

Scott signaled; we split, herded back to the caravan. Headlights were switched on; the dark was like PITCH. Meanwhile, Graham and Scott stood out there, casting long shadows, in a landscape so untamed my flesh crawled...

"Sure. Right. You discussed the location, is all?"

I was furious. Graham was now back in the jeep, crisis passed.

"Scott agreed it had pull. Sensed the same presence I did."

We drove, but not far, being just outside camp.

"So your zombie routine where you stroll off the running board, chasing God only knows what into nil, was IGNORED in your chat with his nibs?"

"You exaggerate."

 

Maybe. I'll grant you, it's HIGHLY unlikely; people can't levitate; ghosts don't exist. But SOMETHING unusual happened that first nightand came back to haunt us by late in the shoot when we USED that location; the same one Graham scouted; the same open space with its gnarly old tree like a magnet. No fooling; Graham really was drawn there. And once or twice I tagged alongbad mistake...

 

We had sneaked outside camp on a trail by the outhouses—'charming' conveniences; squat toilets. NOT! Then picked through some brushwoodpast FRISBEE-size cow pattiesup to a break in the undergrowth. Wow! Green turned to amber in sunlight just dazzling! Grassland the color of flax stretched for DAYS. I mean, Africa's VAST when you get a good look at it. Not that the States aren't impressive; they are. But The Rift has this aura of INFINITE spaciousness. Also, it's wilder. Which scared ME to death. We were WAY out of bounds. The rules were "no sightseeing." Not unescortedfor reasons made plain by the paw prints and hoof marks that seemed to be everywhere. All around camp ARMED GUARDS kept out the game. Hyenas and rhinos, not chipmunks and cottontails. LIONS, for Christ's sake, would roar in the night. And the meanest, most treacherous brutes of the bunch were the ones we'd caught sight ofin the distance, thank goodness. Which isn't to say there weren't others nearby. We'd seen too many droppingsI'm not talking mouse turdsto think of ourselves as REMOTELY secure. And the stories we'd heard about run-ins with buffalo weren't to be shrugged off; their threat was for real. Our cook bent our ears once on what to expect from them. Yes, I'm digressing, but this sets the scene.

 

"Mm. Vengeful, these buffalo. Plenty tough customer. Nothing in Africa said to be worse. First: they fight to keep space. You come too close, get run after. Second: they catch you, they mess you up good. Mm. Got horns huge. The biggest. They crush you like mango meat. Best thing you try maybe climb tall tree fast. Mm. Not good enough. All day they wait. They take turns on you. Maybe you hungry, you thirsty, come down. Death! Or maybe you climb not so high they can reach you. With piss. Tail soak piss up, then flick. Mm. Burn bad. Make you itchy. You stay up, go crazy soon. Nasty. You come down, same juju; die slow time, die quick. The Cape, when he play you, he win."

And they're EVERYWHERE. Were, I mean. Graham kept his eyes peeled. Or did while we hiked. Once we stopped, he lost track. We'd just sit there, him mesmerized, me sort of fidgety. Why was that tree so transfixing, I asked? Graham seemed one step removed from the realm WE inhabited. That's what I meant about film loops and Time. Graham was there, but not ALL there. Like present AND absent. Lost in a daydream, I thought, but not quite. It was more as if something had grabbed his attention, some vision or mystical insightwhateverin a setting so dull it could bore you to tears. Apart from the life-threatening risks, that is. Ludicrous! Looking back now, I'm convinced Graham had flipped. You don't plop yourself down in an African game park, unarmed and half naked, unless you've gone daft. Except I went there with him. Twice. WHAT had possessed me? I sure didn't share Graham's obsession.

 

"They were here."

"WHO were here, Graham?"

He'd  broken his silence, but still sat there gazing at nothing.

"Remember my mentioning Aus-tra-lo-pith-e-cus?"

Strictly rhetorical.

"Yes, Graham, I do."

"And that rogue archeologist's infamous fossils?"

"Ditto; the Flute Players?"

This seemed to please him; despite his eyes holding their fixed stare, Graham smiled.

"She was young when she took up her post at that lookout. Waiting. For death, I think."

"She? Why a female?"

He proceeded to paint such a fabulous portrait —down to the smallest, most telling detail—that you'd swear he described something tangible.

"Her handsomeness takes up the slack left by beauty, as age carves her face like an etching. Adorned; she wears earrings—constructed of bird's feet and vertebrae. Armlets, like serpentine coils, squeeze her biceps. A pouch round her throat, made of tendon and goatskin, contains her most precious possession; a seed. Or a seed of her seed, some maternal remembrance she keeps close and will not relinquish... as if hope might escape were the drawstring undone."

"Hope for what?"

But he clammed up. A curtain was drawn. And the scene, as Graham conjured it, promptly reverted to the one I'd been treating, from glimpse one, with YAWNS.

"Can we go now? If Scott finds us AWOL, he'll dock us. Or force-feed us last night's u-ga-lee."

THE WORST. Of the things Kenya's famous for, dining's not one of them. NEVER have I had such obnoxious cuisine. I mean, back in Nairobi we ate pretty well, but our 'caterers'ha (!); they were more like our 'jailers'served overcooked cabbage, and undercooked cabbage, and overcooked cabbage till I wanted to SCREAM. Which I did, good and loudly. So they added some bush meat. Forty hours later my asshole STILL leaked. Diarrhea is chronic, in Third World bowels globallyfatal to infants; to adults, it's just gross. And harder than crabs to get rid of. And draining. And... How did I segue from spooks to the trots ?

 

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: If I may, Ms. Jerome, redirect your attention?

 

VJ: By all means.

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Some critics have taken exception to "Cargoes of Conscious" on the issue of blame. Does the film go too far by indicting those Blacks who promoted, and profited from, the export of slaves?

 

Witness Barnaby, et al., invited to enter the clay and sticks compound of an inland-tribe's Chief—whose attire is sufficiently grand, if macabre, to signify status. His necklace of beads is elaborate, well-feathered, and strung with the molars of enemies animal and human. His wives, numbering five, tend the hearth, suckle infants, cook foodstuffs, serve nonstop their Lord and his guests... while ignoring lewd glances at their lactating breasts—all save one of these helpmates pretending indifference toward features each likewise thinks 'cute' or 'bizarre,' from the crew's pale complexions to their beards and mustachios.

 

Barnaby's baby-blue eyes cause a stir—in the loins of one Beatrice Jillo especially, who signals her interest with peeks on the sly... answered with mutual attentiveness, if bashfully; Barnaby, smitten, attempts to disguise a flirtation...

 

... espied by the no-nonsense host, whose blood lust eclipses desire for a girl up to nothing-but-trouble since the day she arrived, in a swap he regrets, but perchance might recoup (?), should this neophyte flesh merchant prove less adroit than the old salt whose savvy is legend.

 

Crowe mutters.

 

Captain Crowe

Eyes front and center, lad. "Thou shalt not covet."

 

As Barnaby tries to make sense of this reprimand, Captain Crowe translates their quest to the Chief (an exchange, once again, shown in subtitles).

 

Captain Crowe

(Peace. Want us big number manthing and womanthing. Strongstrong.)

 

Crowe flexes both biceps to bolster his meaning, a gesture regarded with ill-concealed mirth by the eavesdropping wives and their Monarch—who placates the Captain with pseudo-solemnity, peppering his discourse with caustic asides, to the giggly delight of his harem.

 

Chief Ebeya

(Peace likewise. Your Bantu is 'eloquent,' Captain Crowe. Infantile. Nearly as childish as wife number two—who had better refrain from her reckless come-hither else ready her arse for the kiss of my foot. You want how many souls for your godless plantations?)

 

Ebeya urges Crowe to count with his fingers.

 

Disgruntled by words spoken too fast to follow, Crowe struggles to translate their gist.

 

Captain Crowe

(Ten lunch ten.)

(to Barnaby)

Right? One hundred?

 

Invoking their covenant, Crowe distracts Barnaby from yet one more sidelong surveillance; he nods.

 

While the Chief tries to fathom what "lunch" is in lieu of, his kola-stained lips now compressed in a pout.

 

Chief Ebeya

(You mean ten 'times' ten? Five score?.... A workable figureprovided we kill a few extras for sport. I've encountered resistance to plans for expansion that you, with your firearms, might help me to crush. One hundred, you say? Fewer trip-wires to progress; snags I shall snare and dispatch.)

 

Pleased, he chortles.

 

Flashing a grimace—the closest Crowe's face ever comes to a smile—he persists in his bilingual efforts.

 

Captain Crowe

(Make water?)

 

Believing this phrase to mean something like "Pardon me," Crowe turns to Lathrop.

 

Captain Crowe

The Chief says "can do." I'll negotiate price, by your leave.

Pay attention, lad!

 

Barnaby's mind is absorbed with wife two.

 

As the details of bounty, percentage, logistics, are hotly contended (the Chief versus Crowe), taboos of a lifetime are waged against pheromones—Bea's bombard Barnaby and vice versa; blitzed. Intrigued by his eye color, stunned by her nudity, physical attributes keep youth enthralled. Though a subtler bond joins them, unnamed and intangible, holding each captive like bugs in a jar (their tragedy forecast by grim orchestration that stalks unawares—getting LOUD—gaining ground).

 

A wildebeest's death throes preempt our attention with gasps, snorts, and sputters, our vision transfixed by a zoom in on jaws clamped to windpipe and jugular. Fangs, sinking deeply, tap wellsprings of gore as a pulsating panic ebbs e-v-e-r-s-o-s- l-o-w-l-y, heartbeat by weakening heartbeat, life oozed out of eyeball, and nostril, and tongue-lolling gullet. A quiver, a slump of the will; it is done; the prey has succumbed to its predator.

 

 

VJ: No way; I do NOT think we came down too hard on the Brothers. Blacks betrayed Blacks; what's the big-deal shock there? Would you rather we'd typecast ALL dark folks as victims? Wouldn't that have been MORE racist, less true-to-life? Ebeya, for instance—the "Castro of Guinea"—deports undesirables, then invades tribes he loathes. Sure he's wicked, deceitful, a first-class nogoodnik. Hardly a victim, though. Far from a dolt. And no less corrupt than the Whites. Oppression is one of our script's main motifs—alongside desire and comeuppance.

.

{We drew flack for that, I can tell you. OUTRAGEOUS! In spite of their trimming our spiciest scene.}

 

Still, the issue of "blame," as you call it, is moot; ill-gotten gains benefit NOBODY.

 

{Which reduces our film to a fairytale...}

 

"Granted. But not in the sense that its views are invalid. Evil—occasionally—comes home to roost. It took centuries, several, to demonstrate slavery was socially, ethically, and morally wrong. But wrong it is now, Vel, and wrong it was then."

Graham had mounted his soap boxAGAINwell past midnight, high as a kite from that wildebeest kill. Which he witnessed first-hand, from the crane, then the truck; all scenes of wildlife were live, not from stock, shot by macho men, half-wits, the lot of them.

Anyway, Graham was excited and just a tad tipsy from toasting our camera crew's "bravery" (yeah, right)meaning I had to hear out this speech by Lord Cinema, expounding on Art, Film, and Sin...

"It takes hindsight and foresight to fine tune morality, to toss out the bad, to encourage the good. We humans, though born with a noble potential, depend on experience to program free will. Vice and virtue aren't inbred, they're learned, Vel; acquired. Man is hardly omniscient; he needs trial and error; because wrong can look right, through a lens that's subjective. Right can look wrong, when opinions aren't shared. Mistakes, either way, are inevitable."

I just listened... in hopes that he'd run out of gas.

"If you think of survival as Man's top priority, scruples 'appear' to be luxuries. They're not. When a creature can reason and wrestle with conscience, its threat to those life forms that can't becomes worse. Not a problem, as long as we keep down our numbers, but 'nothing succeeds,' as they say 'like success.' And people have bred in such unchecked profusion that problems have outpaced solutions. To wit: 'Whatsoever ye sow, ye shall reap' is forgone. We've sown racism, bigotry, greed, untold violence—past tense and present; our screw-ups abound. So the answer is what; barring homo-extinction?... Yoo-hoo. Oh, Vee-Jay."

At long last, he paused. I mean, DIScourse is fineI enjoy a good chatbut at two A.M. INTERcourse seems more appropriate. Talk, talk, talk, talk; why not fuck? I was horny. And Graham was available; straight; unattached. Or so I presumed from his off the set swagger. Even his chivalry came off as MALE. Unless I projected his manliness. Possible. Graham, come to think of it, never made passes. Not at yours truly, I'm sad to say. Zilch. Through no lack of prompting, Lord knows.

Case in point: I was sprawled on my trailer bed, practically nakedpeek-a-boo panties and bra on; that's itpretending to sleep in a pose SO provocative, Graham MUST have noticed. My thighs felt his breath. Would he yield just this once, I asked, kiss or caress me? Or whisper sweet nothings; my pale Mon Amour? I'm not the world's worst looking female.

I waited. He sat there: enticed (?)... uninspired (?) vaguely bored (?)... until finally I chanced a quick peek.

"Graham, what's wrong!"

He was clutching his temples with both hands, compressing them wincingis face like some goofy cartoon. Overdoing it; that's how I knew it was genuine. Actors in Graham's league don't mu, as a rule. Then it passed; his eyes blinked, as if regaining focus: he looked at the bedding, at the coverlet, then at me. And all I could think of, while hugging my blankiea sure sign I'm feeling stressed out or afraidwas how separate we all are, how vain and self-centered. My best friend in Africa—bar none, at this stage—was sitting right next to me, writhing in pain. And I'm fixed on what? Getting laid.

"Whoa; I wonder what that was. I'm okay, Vel. Honestly. Cross my heart. Shouldn't mix bug drugs with beer."

Those antimalarials were too goddamn toxic! And WORTHLESS, I might add; mosquitoes can change; every new pill spurs new protozoa. So we poisoned ourselves, and we STILL got malaria. Graham and I didn't, but we were exceptions. We sure didn't miss out on side effects: dreams, rapid heartbeat, hot flashesin my case, missed periods; hair loss in Graham's caseplus migraines it seemed; though these were a symptom of something more serious. I wish I had known that back then.

"Well, it's late."

"You can stay, if you like, Graham. You know, just to snuggle? Maybe a back rub would help. Let me try."

My offer, though 'somewhat' platonic at that point, was one that Sir Galahad primly declined. He retired to his pup tent. I switched off my air-conpenance for playing the slut not the nurseand 'sweat' myself chastely to sleep.

 

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