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When The Crocodile Smiles: Chapter 9 - Mr Middleton Returns To Dombe

...At the far end of the courtyard Suswe ordered a guard to pull open one of the dungeon doors. A metre or so inside, Middleton lay on the floor having been dressed in a fresh uniform. His broken swollen face was barely recognizable. He looked as if he had done ten rounds with Tyson...

British High Commisioner Sandy Mackelson sees for himself the horror that has befallen an English teacher in the dreaded Dedza prison.

Meanwhile the extent of corruption by certain Zungulian politicans, who have profited hugely by selling on grain donated by the West to another African country, finally comes to light.

Michael Wood weaves a number of story lines into a credible and unputdownable story of life in an imaginary African country.

To read earlier chapters of Michael's gripping novel please click on When The Crocodile Smiles in the menu on his page.

In the final two days of preparation for the Food Security conference, management at the Dombe Capital Hotel found it in their hearts to clean up. To do something in exchange for the exorbitant room rates which only aid organizations seemed willing to pay. Gardeners were instructed to freshen and compost the flower beds, to cut the grass and neatly trim the edges. Every last decaying leaf was removed from the blackened bottom of the swimming pool. A “Barricuda” was procured and left to vacuum the remaining fragments of dirt as it whirled around unattended, much to the fascination of passing hotel staff who had never before encountered such a device. A new thatched-roof bar was installed pool-side.

Around the hotel complex and car park, men had been busy with brushes, removing the azure blue carpet of fallen jacaranda blossoms. Zungulans excelled at sweeping. Wherever you went, you could find a man occupied in this way, often with a substitute of short stiff grasses bound together at the handle.

The hotel reception area was also given a much needed face lift. A new African look was created by none other than the voluptuous Lucy, Vice-President’s wife and interior designer of some repute. She removed the dreary, faded and incongruous framed posters of London, Paris and New York, and the awful clocks showing the time in these far away capitals, replacing these with lovely batiks depicting village dancing – these threaded through beefy bamboo poles. Old African drums and colourful woven baskets, some containing the dried fruits of baobab trees, filled bare corners. Soft lighting and comfortable sofas covered in ethnic fabrics were introduced. The conference rooms were made ready. Tables were covered in white cotton cloth. Vases of cut flowers, and trays of mint imperials were installed along with the usual proliferation of stationery and state of the art visual aids for laptop presentations.

There had been a whirlwind of activity but now the hotel was fully prepared to host its first conference of this size in several years – more than two hundred participants were expected. A quarter of these would come from Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa. Donors would send a similar number from country offices, or parachute their experts in from capitals. Britain was even sending an all Party committee of Parliamentarians as observers, such was their level of interest in the regional food situation. A sprinkling of civil society representatives had been invited, the most high profile of whom was certainly Bishop Chesendera. By far the majority of delegates, however, would be Zungulan civil servants, all eagerly awaiting their attendance allowances.

* * * * * *

Oily Stainbury’s real employers in London had considered him theoretically perfect for an overseas role. Research on his early background revealed him to be a loner. He had not been unpopular at school, but rather little noticed. He had neither the ability nor any aspiration to be part of the cricket or rugby fraternity. In summer term he sunbathed while others applied bat to ball or raced around the athletics track; in winter he hugged radiators, inspiring a teacher to suggest he was developing curvature of the spine. “Like a cat eating soot.” The only physical activity Oily endured was compulsory cross country, at which he excelled – in finding, and getting away with ridiculously easy short cuts. In the classroom, he was neither stupid nor gifted but distinctly average. These proved helpful qualifications to blend in to the most secretive of Her Majesty’s Government Departments. Once recruited, he immersed himself fully. He diligently spent long hours mugging up on three minor Southern Africa countries, memorizing details of their most prominent political figures, their perceived strengths and weakness, especially the latter, and learning about the activities of so called “unfriendly” nations represented alongside his own.

Such intense application surprised even himself and left little if any time for a healthy personal life. Oily rarely socialized – only for the occasional drink with male work colleagues. It wasn’t that he didn’t like women. On the contrary. After spending his formative years at a remote school in Perthshire, he hadn’t yet learned how to get on with them. Invariably, females thought him rather too serious, and his general behaviour a bit furtive. Early efforts to secure himself a girlfriend had been hurtfully rebuffed. Rather than risk further humiliation, Stainbury stopped trying.

The intelligence services considered it a duty to mould their employees, like shaping moistened clay on a wheel, to ensure loyalty, trustworthiness, to infuse cunning and a touch of ruthlessness, but above all, to instill a solid, unquestioning faith in the State. Oily demonstrated a fair number of these traits from the day he started working at the Embankment offices, so his employers’ grooming task had been relatively easy. Three years on, their charge was still in his early twenties, but they considered him well enough informed, and suitably prepared to take on the low priority Zungula post.

Stainbury looked across at his bedside clock and surveyed with a carelessness and warped satisfaction, the pit of a bedroom. The floor was strewn with a week’s worth of dirty clothes which he couldn’t be bothered carrying through to the washing machine at the other end of the house. His mother had always told him that a bedroom, like the state of one’s shoes, was a fair reflection of a person’s personality, but the advice had never stuck. Unlike other High Commission staff, and expatriates in general, he hadn’t taken on a houseboy to do the chores.

His Dombe abode was furnished with cheaply veneered “rosewood” in accordance with his Second Secretary status. There were few personal touches to brighten up the walls or to decorate bare window sills. He had dragged into his bedroom a surplus bookcase to house a library of seedy films, and a collection of soft porn images downloaded over the last couple of years from favourite internet sites, the material tucked safely away in box-files. An old Panasonic TV and video were set up in front of the bed for late night viewing.

Oily lay there, thinking about the day ahead. He would need to fly down to Kintyre as soon as possible to get advice from the High Commission’s lawyer, whose skills would be required to get that old bugger Middleton out on bail. It would be pretty easy, he felt sure, to spring the man from the police cell where he would have spent the night. Oily felt sure that Middleton would soon be on his way back to Lancashire, whether or not he had anything to answer for.

It was only six a.m. There was still time. Oily consciously drained his mind of work, as he had learned to do countless times in the confines of this grubby room, concentrating instead on the virtues of adoring young Zungulan women. He began to indulge in a version of his favourite fantasy. – the advertisement placed in the Zungula Daily Times to lure suitable girls to his “studio”. They would come to meet him by the score. He would interview each in turn for modeling work. As part of the ritual, the girls would have to undress. He would photograph them and make notes on their readiness to respond to his lurid remarks about the shapeliness of their breasts or the lusciousness of their behinds.

He would select only half a dozen for final consideration. The lucky survivors were invited to this room where they were under instruction to compete for his favours as part of the contest which he had devised. They were all so nubile, so pleasing to squeeze and feel up. He would have to choose a winner eventually, but he would take his time about it – the girl who most overwhelmed him with the force of her feminine power and the strength of her own desire. She would get the modeling contract at his disposal. He could be sure that all the finalists desperately wanted to reach that ultimate goal and would do anything to please him.

Prominent among them he could see Beauty Musajakawa stripped bare of the bright cotton dresses she habitually wore to work, her lighter skin standing out against the others, her relative sophistication gone. She was older perhaps, but she had all the outstanding curves and features which he craved. The more he thought of her, the more her maturity, her rank, turned him on. She was fighting with her competitors for his attention now, thrusting herself at him, pushing the others away, begging him to choose her. At last he acceded to her pleading, nonchalantly offering his extended organ which she slavishly took in her mouth, deliciously savouring it while the defeated girls continued to pet and play, and kiss whatever part of him was not occupied by the victorious Beauty.

Stainbury finished his manual labour in a heavy sweat and hoped his moaning had not been overheard by the gardener whom he knew to be sweeping in the yard outside. And then he felt ashamed, even a little depraved. He thought of Beauty Musajakawa again but this time she was transformed back into her office role. “You bitch,” he murmured to himself, “You fucking bitch.”

Time had marched on faster than he imagined and it looked as if he might be late for work. He took a pair of underpants off the floor – these would do another day, he thought – and he hastily pressed a shirt creating more creases than before the hot iron had been applied. He sprayed a layer of deodorant over his grimy upper body and then finished dressing. He would have to miss breakfast but could grab a cup of coffee as soon as he reached the office. First he determined, he would call at the police headquarters to see how Middleton was faring. The High Commissioner might well ask.

When Stainbury arrived at the depressing building on Dunduza Road, he was told that the Commissioner of Police was traveling. This could have meant anything but it was clear there would be no chance of an off the cuff meeting with Lawrence Chitambo. Oily therefore explained his consular responsibilities and asked the sergeant on duty if he could have a brief word with Middleton. The policeman looked shifty and uncomfortable, for it was he who had accompanied his boss and Middleton to Dedza Prison in the dead of night. It was he who had struck the prisoner’s face with a revolver.

“You see,” he said, “that man is not here now now.”

Stainbury was taken aback but robust in response for a young man who still looked like a scruffy junior.

“Sergeant, you had better tell me his whereabouts and quickly. This man was in your charge. I should remind you that he has not yet been convicted of any crime. I hope for your sake that Mr Middleton has come to no harm. Where is he?”

“You see,” the sergeant said again, “there was no cell available for the man in this ples.”

“Where?” Oily persisted.

“The accommodations we found for him were at Dedza.”

Stainbury was shocked. He had visited the prison with a group of European Union delegates to assess conditions in the jail as part of a wider remit investigating human rights in the country. The delegation had couched their report diplomatically, but had been critical:

“………The mission recognizes that the Government does not have resources to build new prisons at this stage, and therefore faces difficulty with overcrowding. This shortcoming could be allayed by greater effort on the part of the authorities to introduce community sentences for lesser criminals and juveniles. Until this can be accomplished, these inmates should be separated from men accused of more serious crime. GoZ should also take early steps to bring remand prisoners to trial since it is evident that some have been languishing in prison for more than two years without their cases being heard. Cells should be provided with “honey-buckets” (portable toilets) and a light source as a bare minimum; inmates should be issued with blankets. The issue of sexually transmitted disease must also be addressed. While the message is unpalatable, the reality is that sexual abuse, particularly of young inmates, is a fact of life in Dedza. The mission urges GoZ to take early action in the testing of…………”

Oily was aware that the National Council for Safety, Security and Access to Justice, had reacted angrily to the suggestion that African men could be capable of having sex with other men. Only deviant Europeans and Americans were like that, they had said. The EU report had been shelved. If Middelton was incarcerated in Dedza, he was in grave danger and must be rescued at all costs.

* * * * * *

Sam Phiri was a nervous host at the conference, having just completed a sale of grain to the Government of Kenya, at a time of critical shortage in Zungula. He wondered how he would be able to keep this under wraps.

Normally a gathering of such importance would have been chaired by a Minister, or at least a Permanent Secretary. Joe Tembo had declined and quietly instructed his number two to do likewise. The Minister of Agriculture was on extended leave – a euphemism covering his illness with AIDS – and his PS was attending a conflicting World Bank event in Washington. Even the suave Matthews Chihana had left Phiri to it. However, help was at hand. The donors realized that Sam was exposed and had suggested a rotating Chairmanship to ease the burden. Now as the meeting had entered its third and final day, Sam felt things hadn’t gone too badly. With the exception of Zimbabwe delegates, whose preparations had been minimal, and their interventions overtly political, there had been helpful presentations from other participating countries. A clearer picture was beginning to emerge about the extent of the food deficit across the region.

The pattern was much the same everywhere. Farmers with access to irrigation had produced reasonable harvests. Across the region however, there was little large scale estate production, as once had been common in Zimbabwe, and there were no economies of scale. Small farmers were efficient but poor. They could neither afford the necessary inputs to ensure higher levels of production (fertilizer, high yielding varieties of seed), nor could they cope with the unending drought which had been affecting Southern Africa for three years on the trot. While the situation shouldn’t be confused with famine, it was clear that all the countries concerned, were in need of outside help to avert human suffering.

Aid delegates had also been impressed with the openness with which the conference had been able to discuss the impact of AIDS on farm productivity. Incidence of HIV and AIDS was as high as 35% in some areas, according to WHO figures. Farming was adversely affected. Existing labour shortages were likely to deepen in future. The outlook was bleak. African officials called for an intensification of donor help with direct food relief, credit, provision of inputs for the current planting season, the capital cost of irrigation where this might prove effective across a large subsistence farming area, and with faster delivery of anti-retroviral drugs. They wanted the latter not only for urban elites, but also to help sick farmers get back into their fields.

As Matthews Chihana had predicted, donors listened to these pleas with sympathy. The data was so consistent that they could not be questioned. Visiting experts from London, Washington and Brussels were already chewing over a package of remedial measures. They had even agreed that steps should be taken to alleviate the suffering of Zimbabweans , in spite of the lackluster performance of officials from Harare. Bishop Chesendera had been helpful behind the scenes urging South African government delegates to take back to Tshwane (Pretoria) this clear message – as the regional powerhouse they had a responsibility to exert much greater pressure on their neighbour to bring an end to intimidation and the practice of distributing available food on the basis of political affiliation.

Overall, Sam Phiri was pleased with his own team’s performance. Donors had taken into account the difficulty of assembling accurate grain production figures for the north of Zungula. He had explained to uninformed mzungu visitors that parts of the north had become a virtual no-go area. An already critical food situation was now even more acute as a consequence of inter-tribal fighting. Beauty Musajakawa supported Sam with a brief account of her own recent experience in the north, highlighting the near empty village grain stores which she had encountered on the way to Machope.

During the coffee break, Sam approached Beauty to find out more about her visit. She had been chatting to some of the MPs from London who looked incongruous in their business suits, as if they were attending an English funeral. He waited until there was a suitable break in the conversation.

“And what did you think of my home village when you were in the north?” he asked, believing that her reference to Machope earlier, had signified familiarity with the place. Sam noted with disquiet, the MPs’ lack of manners as they drifted off to circulate elsewhere.

“Sorry Sam. Where is your home?”

“I come from Machope. That is where my mother still lives.”

Beauty looked at him gravely. It seemed in spite of his awareness of the conflict situation, no connection had been made to the possibility of this reaching his own village.

“Unfortunately Sam, I didn’t get as far as Machope. I’m afraid I came across a truck load of victims of the fighting on the road, perhaps half an hour from your village. I phoned the High Commission about my predicament and was strongly advised to turn back.”

“Oh my God, I will have to find out what is happening. You say you were only half an hour from Machope?”

“Yes, if that”.

“Oh my God,” he said again, now thinking of village friends, and wandered back to his place at the conference top table.

The last few hours of the conference were earmarked for a discussion of agricultural policy reforms which might succeed in bolstering food supply. Following this, Sam and his counterparts hoped the meetings would conclude with a pledging session, in which donors would make clear what sums of money could be allocated for the set of priority actions which had been identified during the debates. Sam feared that this might be his toughest moment. Before deciding what could be made available to Zungula, the donors were bound to link the requirement for new food aid, with what was already in the bank. So it proved. The Dombe based EU Delegate was the first to raise the issue.

“Mr Chairman, this has been an excellent three days of discussion. I pay tribute to you and others who have so ably managed proceedings. We’re now better armed to discuss with our capitals, the need for a broader range of interventions and the necessary financial support. Before we do so, it would be helpful to hear from you Sir, and also from others similarly placed, what quantities remain in your respective grain silos. Perhaps Mr Chairman, you could start us off?”

Sam’s heart started thumping and he felt perspiration in the palms of his hands. He had been dreading this, and up until that moment, hadn’t decided how he would handle it. With no apparent escape route he tried to wing it and blurted out the line which Matthews Chinana had advised him to take.

“Thank you Mr Fernandez. You are aware that grain donated to Zungula for emergency paposes, was stored at the old silos originally constructed with funding from Moscow. These are sadly in need of more repair and maintenance than we can affod. Especially problematical for us is removal of the asbestos linings which are a known health hazard.” Sam was quite pleased with this last piece of deception which had leapt into his mind as he spoke. “I am still quite new to this job, but I can say, after two years in that storage, we found a lot of this grain was no longer fit for human consumptions and it had to be destroyed. Some of it is still quite OK however.”

Sam Phiri instinctively knew that in spite of his inventiveness, this would not be enough to satisfy the donors. He observed notables in the room looking at one another in apparent disbelief. His sense of unease increased. Fernandez couldn’t hide his astonishment and returned to the charge.

“Well, I have to say that this is the first I’ve heard of the poor storage conditions you describe. My Delegation asked to be kept informed about quantities of grain leaving the depot. Although we didn’t say so in as many words, the implication was that we would have wanted to know about any unforeseen disposal.”

“I apologize for that Sah. I think there is only small remaining in store, perhaps five thousand tonnes or so. Our calculations suggest Zungula needs more than a million tonnes of imported grain this year to cancel out our expected deficit. I say with all humility that the quantity in store now is only a fraction of the total requirement, and this would have been the case, even if we could have utilized the damaged grains.”

“That may be so Mr Phiri,” Fernandez retorted, “but your announcement now means that somehow the donor community will have to find more from their budgets than they otherwise expected. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, other development plans may have to be shelved.”

After all the good will that had been generated in the first two days, the meeting now looked as if it was turning sour, at least for Zungula. As Sam expected, donors called for a paper trail on grain store movements. Surely now he would have to invent figures, just as Chihana had said, and hope that the donors didn’t follow up with a more detailed investigation.

That evening in their little Chabwele house, Patience sensed something was wrong. Her husband sat brooding, unwilling to say what was on his mind. Had he discovered her affair with Joe Tembo? She was frightened about the possibility. Although she had continued her secret encounters with the Minister, who seemed unperturbed by her growing belly, her lover continued to insist that the pregnancy was Sam’s doing. Her greatest concern was the possibility of abandonment by both men.

In fact Sam had no suspicions at all about his wife’s unfaithfulness. What concerned him was that urgently needed food aid might be delayed while facts behind the disappearance of stored grain were uncovered. He could not have this on his conscience. When he and Patience had finished eating, he remained morose. The two sat in silence for some time under the dismal light of their Chinese lamp. Finally Sam took his mobile phone outside and spoke in urgent tones.

“Very well then,” Patience had heard him conclude, “I will come to your house right away.”
Without another word to his wife, Sam started walking along the dark path which he knew like the back of his hand, leading to the main road. He reckoned he could be in Area 43 within forty minutes.

* * * * * *

As the morning sun rose and despatched shadows around the British High Commission building, any visitor would have marveled at the facilities in this prestigious piece of real estate. It had spacious offices, all weather tennis courts, an ocean-blue swimming pool, the paraphernalia of multiple communication masts and room sized satellite dishes. The only embarrassment for Britain was its location on Robert Mugabe Avenue, the irony of which, even the most dispassionate observer found amusing. When Oily Stainbury returned from Police HQ he went straight in to see the High Commissioner. Sandy Mackelson was making amendments to a telegram which Beauty had drafted the previous night, reporting on the conference conclusions and her visit to the north. It would need his close attention before he could sign if off. Oily recounted his discussion with the police sergeant and quickly briefed his boss on the conditions to be found at Dedza.

Mackelson was furious. “For Christ’s sake. That bastard Chitambo gave me his word!” Reaching for the phone, he asked his secretary to get the Commissioner on the line.

“He’s traveling,” Stainbury interrupted.


“I understand he’s not in Dombe.”

Sandy Mackelson was tired and sat for a moment contemplating, his hands across his face. This country was driving him mad. Every time he thought he was taking a step forward, like a drunken man, he was inexorably propelled backwards.

“He’s not at his HQ apparently, Heather”, Mackelson shouted through to the adjacent office. “Find out where he is as a matter of urgency please.” And then to Stainbury “Thank you Eric. You had better stand by. We may need to go down to Dedza together this morning.”

The High Commissioner tried to focus on the telegram but felt distracted and unable to compose the right words. Ten minutes later Heather advised that Lawrence Chitambo was on the line. Sandy Mackelson took a deep breath.

“Good morning to you High Commissioner. How can I help you today?” the police chief beamed, as if the pair were old friends.

“One of my staff visited your headquarters this morning. We are alarmed that Mr Middleton is not there. Where is he please?” Mackelson wanted to hear it from Chitambo himself.

“Ahyee. That man. My officers say there was no spes for him in Dombe,” he lied. “Therefore they had to transport him directly to Dedza, where in fact I am at this time.”

“When we last spoke, you assured me that Mr Middleton would be well treated. I don’t regard a night in Dedza as appropriate treatment for a remand prisoner.”

“I agree Sah that the accommodations are not of the best but we had no alternative. Unfortune-ate-ely the cells which we are having at HQ were already full so.”

“I want to see Mr Middleton. I will be coming down to Dedza this morning with a consular official. I trust you will still be there when we arrive?”

“No problem Sah. I can arrange it so.”

Mackelson cut him off . Within ten minutes, he and Oily were on their way south in the black Range Rover. The High Commissioner was clutching Beauty’s draft telegram. There was an urgent need to get it off that day so he would have to work on it en route.

* * * * * *

Beauty Musajakawa had left the food security conference in an uncharacteristically gloomy frame of mind. Everything had gone so smoothly until the vexed issue of Zungula grain stocks came up. Donors were deeply skeptical about alleged wastage in the silos. They met briefly around the new pool-side bar when the conference proceedings had been wound up, and agreed that something was going on. They determined that the government would have to be pressed for fuller information. Some insisted this would be needed in advance of any further food donations. Beauty was far from confident that GoZ would move fast enough to avert a humanitarian crisis.

Then there was the mysterious call from Sam Phiri when Beauty had reached home. He had some information which he insisted he must impart that evening. When he arrived it was already 9.00pm. Sam was ill at ease and would not accept Beauty’s offer of a drink. As soon as he sat down, he told her everything, kneading the sofa arm with his hand as he spoke.

“What I have to tell you is very serious Miss Musajakawa. I am sure once I have revealed my information I will be in big trabble but I cannot go on without discussing it with someone on the donor side.”

“Go on,” she urged.

“A short time ago, the Minister of Finance came to see me, he said on instruction from the President. He aksed me about the quantity of grain we had in the silos and how much it was worth on the international market. He made clear he wanted me to sell it and get it out of the way before our conference started. He said it was to ensure as much new donor help as possible in response to the current maize shottage. At first I thought this might be OK if the Minister used cash from the sale to buy fertilizer or some such. But then he told me to keep everything quiet and to use a private account for the credit. He had even lined up those Kenyans as buyers. That country too is shot.”

Sam was trembling such was the import of what he revealed. Beauty immediately grasped the implications. This was corruption on a grand scale, with two obvious beneficiaries. She felt sorry for Sam and could imagine what pressure he’d been put under to lie to the conference. For a moment she was pensive. Sam felt unburdened yet fearful of her response. Beauty wanted to think without the pressure of this man expecting her immediate reaction so she asked to be excused for a few minutes, retreating to her bathroom.

Sitting on the loo seat, she understood it had taken considerable fortitude for Sam to spill the beans. He must have realized, just as she did from experience of the British Civil Service, that whistle blowers were shunned and never rewarded. She took a face cloth and dabbled some water on her cheeks and forehead. Then an idea began to take shape. Yes, she thought to herself, that was how she must handle it. When she returned to the living room, Sam was anxiously pacing up and down, just as he had done in Chihana’s office.

“Sam, you have put yourself at risk in coming to see me. That was courageous. If there were more like you the country might stand a chance of getting up on its feet. I think you probably know that I have no option but to pass on what you’ve told me, both to donor colleagues, and to my senior management. However, for your sake I intend to protect my source and I advise that you must behave as if you’ve said nothing more than you did at the conference. Are you with me?” Phiri nodded, waiting for more. “Tomorrow I’ll have a meeting with leading donors and tell them what I know. That the grain stocks we had been discussing were in fact sold, and not destroyed.”

“But won’t this trigger donor retaliation at a time of our greatest need?” Sam asked fearfully.

Beauty considered his question for a moment and recalled his conference plea that a million tonnes of maize was Zungula’s certain requirement.

“I’m sure we’ll want to conduct a forensic audit, which we’re likely to insist is carried out by consultants of our choosing. That is likely to produce information which we’ll want to put before the Anti-Corruption Bureau. It’s possible that the EU, as the original sponsor of your emergency stocks, will provide no more help until the matter is cleared up. But other donors will probably reach the conclusion that poor and hungry Zungulans should not suffer while the audit is proceeding.”

“What will happen to me?”

“The important thing, in terms of your personal protection, is under no circumstances should you reveal that you’ve given information to me. It’s bound to come out that you were involved in the decision to sell, but the donors will take the view that you were forced into this. Leave us to work out next steps.”

The meeting was over and Sam moved towards the front door. It was already nearly 10 pm and he faced a long walk home.

“I didn’t hear a car when you arrived Sam. Did you leave it on the road outside?”

“Ah, my work has not given me a car,” he said regretfully.

“Then let me drive you.” It was the least she could do, she felt. It didn’t take long to reach Chabwele Heights. Sam asked to be dropped on the fringes rather than risk Beauty getting lost in the rabbit warren of rubble strewn, unpaved roads deeper within the settlement. As Sam closed the car door, he suddenly felt desperately exposed; that his ambitions of leaving this place might never be fulfilled; that life itself was in the balance. Beauty watched him disappear into the darkness.

* * * * * *

The black Range Rover made easy work of the road to Dedza. Its occupants had traveled in air conditioned comfort, passing alongside an area of porous border with Mozambique, where bullet strewn, roofless buildings still remained abandoned, fifteen years after the scorched earth policy of RENAMO rebels operating in the former Portuguese colony. In spite of these relics, the landscape was truly magnificent. The road had been carved through mountainsides, alternating between summits and rich valley floors. The morning sunlight played tricks on the eye, creating impossible colours among steep rocky crevices which even the best photographer could never do justice to. The diplomats saw only occasional signs of life. A distant cluster of mud huts, someone tending to cattle, goats grazing. They flashed past an old man pushing his bicycle up one of the steep inclines, a load of cut sugar cane strapped to the back carrying frame.

When finally they arrived at Dedza prison, Sandy Mackelson refused to accept the outstretched hand of Lawrence Chitambo. He had had quite enough of this man. The visitors were led into a dingy office where the High Commissioner was surprised to find that Chitambo had company – the Commissioner of Prisons, Henderson Suzwe, a tiny man whose braided uniform looked several sizes too big for him. Clearly he had made the journey down from Dombe as well, perhaps to give his colleague moral support. The two Zungulans moved uncomfortably in their chairs as Mackelson regarded them sternly. It was Suswe who spoke first.

“Welcome to Dedza prison High Commissioner. We are honoured……..”

“Never mind all that,” Mackelson interrupted him viciously. “I would like to see Mr Middleton right away.”

Suswe sat forward, face directed towards the stone floor, his right leg pulsing in a rhythmic motion which gave Mackelson the willies. Chitambo regarded his cane, polishing away some imaginary stain on the bone handle. There was silence. Both visitors were quick to detect that there was something wrong.

“Where is Mr Middleton?” Mackelson persisted, struggling to keep his voice level. Chitambo met the High Commissioner’s steely eye with a brazen look. There was an uncouth smugness and bully-boy appearance about him which brought the shining face of Idi Amin to mind.

“Unfortune-ate-ely the prisoner........, has died.”

The Britons looked at one another aghast. Middleton had been healthy when he left the Residence. What on earth could have happened to him in the last thirty six hours. Sandy Mackelson could not disguise the utter hatred for the apology of a policeman.

“What were the circumstances?” he demanded with as much calm as he could muster.

“He was involved in some fighting after stealing a man’s food and trying to be the big boss here. The prisoners, they did not like it.”

“As I said at the outset, I would like to see him.”

The two Zungulan men stood up and Suswe ushered the visitors into the courtyard where the three hundred prisoners had again been instructed to sit in rows. There was a hushed expectation as the white men entered. Mackelson surveyed the scene and could scarcely take it in. The atmosphere was deeply oppressive. The prisoners averted their gaze. He could sense that some evil act had occurred here, in this filthy cramped space which vividly brought to mind a mediaeval place of internment. Suswe moved between two rows of men inviting Mackelson and Stainbury to follow.

At the far end of the courtyard Suswe ordered a guard to pull open one of the dungeon doors. A metre or so inside, Middleton lay on the floor having been dressed in a fresh uniform. His broken swollen face was barely recognizable. He looked as if he had done ten rounds with Tyson. It was obvious this had been no ordinary fight. The High Commissioner felt ill as he surveyed the dark hole in which this British teacher met his end. It stank in spite of the disinfectant on the cobbled floor. The walls were black. Chitambo, now playing the part of innocent by-stander, looked on from the courtyard entrance with the demeanour of someone who had lost a close relative. Mackelson turned to Suswe in disgust.

“I will be taking charge of Mr Middleton’s body. It is evident that there is more to his death than you are revealing. There will be a full investigation.”

Suswe nodded, his face guilt stricken. He was easily manipulated by Chitambo, but was filled with regret at the turn of events. He ordered four prisoners to help carry Middleton’s corpse out to the High Commissioner’s waiting car. Rabsoni, the driver, watched amazed as the struggling men emerged.

“Open the back please,” Mackelson commanded. “We’re taking Mr Middleton with us.”

The body was heaped unceremoniously into the rear of the car and three of the four men promptly moved back inside the prison walls under the watchful eye of a guard, but only too glad to be rid of a dead man. The fourth lingered, helping to adjust the body so that there was some dignity in the way Middleton lay. When he had finished he looked across to the High Commissioner standing only a few paces away.

“Good journey, Boss” was all he could afford to say before he limped away in some pain, to join the others. It was enough. Mackelson recognized the voice at once. It was the trader, Noah. “What the hell was he doing here?” he thought, as the car moved off. But before the High Commissioner had left Dedza town with his unusual cargo, Noah Bamidele had slipped entirely from his mind.


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