I HATE YOU FOREVER;
I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER AND A DAY
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
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
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
burdens—and 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
nor the strongest, his leadership appeared to hinge on his multi-lingual wit—as 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
"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.
"Here," He forked over the meticais. "Go get them. Then
come back. Well 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 senses—neither
the jasmine blossoms Yayuk held under his nostrils, nor the Vick's cough syrup she
finally convinced him to swallow made the faintest impression—was 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 eye—very contagious—which, if contracted and left
untreated, could render one blind—leaving touch the last
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 facades;
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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