CHAPTER TWO


I HATE YOU FOREVER;
I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER AND A DAY

Mozambique

   

     Sebastian Arnold Lazarus knew, upon entering the customs station then its latrine, that he and his companion had crossed the border between South Africa and Mozambique. Their stamped passports represented the transition officially; the stench from accumulated un-flushed human excrement coagulating in all six stalls, oozing over befouled fixtures onto a concrete floor plastered thick with used toilet tissue, newsprint, candy wrappers, and urine-soaked trash, marked the change hygienically. From spit-and-polish affluence to piss-and-feces squalor, First World into Third World, they had passed. Willingly. Eagerly, in fact, anxious to escape an atmosphere of tension-fraught racism, inequality, and violence—South African hallmarks—to experience one alleged to be infinitely worse; an estimated million-plus unexploded land mines planted by opposing sides during a recently-ended civil war were still mangling Mozambicans with random detonations.
    The stretch of road ahead served only to emphasize this contemporary turmoil, littered, as its shoulders were, with burnt out, rusting chassis of numerous vehicles. It was a corridor of destruction, with machine-gun-armed soldiers bivouacked every few kilometers in rudimentary pup tents to form an inauspicious gauntlet waiting to be run.
    But just as the bright Sunday-morning passivity outside Johannesburg's train station had disguised an impending ambush, this ominously-militant, thunderclap-accompanied, late-afternoon entry into Maputo cloaked nothing more insidious than a welcoming smile. Civilization had been reached, albeit in a very rundown condition; the capital of Mozambique was a virtual wreck.
    After securing barely adequate lodging in an overpriced pensão  with no running water, Sebastian and Yayuk dined next door, rather lavishly, on Portuguese T-bone steaks (spending more than they had on the dismal room).
    Fed, bucket-showered, and humbly housed, they slept that first night in an unfamiliar country, city, and bed with the self-satisfaction of knowing they had, somehow, managed the basics.
    An exploratory stroll the following morning led to a pair of local treasures: 1. Pensão Central, on Avenida 24 de Julho (Independence Day), a three-story boarding house with more character tucked into its screen-door-slamming, drain-pipe-aspirating, clientele-hobnobbing vintage nooks-and-crannies than ever could be found in a more upscale establishment; and 2. a street urchin named Nelson.
    ‘Nelson Mandela,’ the couple playfully called their impromptu benefactor, whose first service rendered was to accompany Sebastian across town to collect their luggage, a task divided among six boys in toto, Nelson's gang sharing the burdensand whatever prestige may have been involved in helping out foreigners. They also shared the booty, 20,000 meticais (about $2 U.S.) and half a loaf of bread. This distribution of labor and wages was Nelson's idea. Neither the eldest and biggest, nor the strongest, his leadership appeared to hinge on his multi-lingual witas well as on his unswerving commitment to spreading around equitably what little he possessed.
    "My friends, my friends, let me show you the way," had been Nelson's initial salutation. Con-man, saint, survivor, this barefooted attaché led the couple on subsequent outings to the Malawian and Tanzanian Embassies for future visas... to a remarkably cheap and savory take-out barbecued chicken shop where all three lunched contentedly for under $5... to an out-of-the-way Italian bread bakery selling piping hot loaves from 4 to 6 PM.... to a locals-only hodgepodge of food kiosks buzzing literally and figuratively with atmosphere... and to the Continental Café wherein Yayuk and Sebastian would nurse coffee grand's for hours, their fidgety guide having guzzled within seconds his sugar-laced Fanta.
     "He's with us," had been endorsement enough to gain their guide's admittance, though a sidelong glance from the waiter had made it clear that Nelson was unwelcome. Dressed in the only clothes he owned—a shirt more holes than fabric, pants whose color matched their pervasive soot—the lad, indeed, was inappropriately attired, more likely to frequent the cafe's garbage bin than brave its main-street entrance. Aware of his 'temporary' acceptability, Nelson kept his eyes averted when the waiter took their order, then, demonstrating an avid interest in everything from the couple's pens to their Lonely Planet guide book, proceeded to ask a nonstop string of questions.
     "What's that?"
     "Africa. The whole continent. And this is where you live. See? Maputo, in Mozambique," instructed Yayuk, indulging Nelson's genuine curiosity.
    "So, how much are these flip-flops you want to buy?" Sebastian closed his hand in the journal he was trying to update.
    "Twenty-five thousand."
    "Here," He forked over the meticais. "Go get them. Then come back. We’ll save your seat."
    "You are kind to buy Nelson sandals," Yayuk remarked, after the fifteen-year-old skedaddled.
    "Bullshit. He was driving me nuts." Irritable on two counts: Nelson's interruptions; and the malingering cold symptoms that had rendered restful sleep impossible for six nights running (making off for nearly as many days with his senses of taste and smell), the author was disinclined to acknowledge 'humanitarianism.'
    "You need cough medicine, Sebastian."
    "The only cure for me is a guillotine."
    At Yayuk's blank expression, he insisted she look up ‘guillotine’ in his paperback dictionary—wondering how a writer could entertain the notion of spending his life's remainder with an ESL mate. Then again, Yayuk's creative use of a drastically smaller English vocabulary often struck Sebastian as delightful. He would suffer her halting comprehension in exchange for novelties like: "I dream I take the moon, not the full moon but half, and make a scarf"... and "I only know from old people how my country got broken; I am unborn then"... and again "Hair chest; yours are gray. Dead soon."
    "Dead soon" was right. The head cold would not loosen its strangle-hold on Sebastian's sinuses. And to be totally devoid of two sensesneither the jasmine blossoms Yayuk held under his nostrils, nor the Vick's cough syrup she finally convinced him to swallow made the faintest impressionwas to be two-fifths into the grave already. A few more eardrum-straining honks of his overblown nose could finish off his hearing. Nelson had pink eyevery contagious—which, if contracted and left untreated, could render one blind—leaving ‘touch’ the last un-jeopardized vital sign standing between life and Mr. Lazarus reenacting the Christian myth.
    On top of which, it was all such a horrible waste of time, energy, and meticais to be ill in Mozambique. They had been stuck in the capital for nearly two weeks, confined mostly to their stuffy hotel room; "the sick bay" they called it. Their tag team of discomforts: Sebastian's headaches, Yayuk's menstrual cramps, his nasal congestion, her indigestion, his coughing fits, her overall fatigue, restricted them from enjoying Maputo's shabby attractions. Still, it was more than a little pleasant to stroll down boulevards shaded by flamboyant and jacaranda trees in full bloom, their respective red-orange and delicate-lavender flower petals decorating the canopy, littering the pot-holed surfaces of sidewalk and road... or to watch white-gloved, whistle-tooting, uniformed female traffic directors mount circular platforms at key intersections to perform their stylized signals during rush hour... or to be entertained by a triumvirate of roof-top dancing children while waiting for ones steak, sausage, or chicken (paid for by the kilo) to be barbecued at an open-air restaurant... or to come unexpectedly upon the magnificent, newly-renovated train station designed by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel... or to note the persistence of nature in reclaiming those structures left too-long un-repaired: a sapling sprouted beside a derelict church steeple; a massive root system reaching the ground from an overhanging gutter; a gate entangled with vines grown so thick as to make its ironwork superfluous; grass shoots poking through cracked fa
cades; clusters of weeds girding a broken-down portico, thus, Maputo was a city striving to rebuild, losing ground to decay, and adjusting to the imbalance with remarkable aplomb.

 

Imagine the worst...

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