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When The Crocodile Smiles: Chapter 20 - End Of the Line

Sandy Mackelson, the British High Commissioner to Zugula, decides that there is only one course of action to be taken. He has been having an extra-marital affair, and the President of Zungula is now aware of the indiscretions; not only aware, but willing to use his knowledge to bully Sandy into submission.

Michael Wood's novel of life in an imaginary African country moves towards a variety of resolutions.

To read earlier chapters of this splendid novel please click on When The Crocodile Smiles in the menu on this page.

When Patience Phiri awoke from the beating which Lawrence Chitambo meted out, she found herself in quite different surroundings. She was lying on a grubby mattress without so much as a blanket to cover her modesty, such as it was – for she still wore only the near invisible little strips of cloth of a sort which audacious women liked to call a bikini.

It was Friday’s hungry howls which brought her back to full consciousness. She wondered where she was at first. It was a simple room with only the single bed and a small chest as furnishing. An East African-style kanga hung over the window, serving as a curtain. A few items of male clothing hung from a wooden rail which was propped but not affixed between the narrowness of back and front walls. A white enamel washbowl stood on top of the chest, and a piece of carbolic soap lay in a small pool of spilled water. The floor was rough concrete with a grass mat at the bedside.

Patience sat up in some pain. Friday was still screeching and in desperation she offered him her breast. He quickly began to suck greedily. It had been hours since he had last had nourishment. With the child clinging to her, she stood with difficulty and peered out of the window. To her amazement and some relief, she saw that she was at the back of Tembo’s house, obviously in one of the servant’s rooms. She stepped forward to open the door but found it to be locked. She began to thump on the door and cry out for help, as she remembered the reason for her state – Chitambo! There seemed to be no one around. Surely there were bound to be staff members somewhere in the main house? She shouted and yelled until her voice was hoarse. A quarter of an hour or more passed, and still she called out.

Finally, she saw the steward with whom she had flirted, coming towards the room. His chest was bare and he was carrying a plain white towel; clearly he had been to the servants’ communal washrooms. As he placed the key in the lock Patience issued an order on the other side of the slatted door, “Hurry up and let me out of here.”

The steward edged into the room taking care not to let Patience move past him. He turned his back to her and locked the door again.

“Why have you brought me to your disgusting room?” she demanded.

“Because this is your house now.”

“You are a mad man, of that I am sure. Just wait until the Minister returns. He’ll have you shot for this.”

The steward looked at her. That body was something else, he thought.

“In fact I have saved you,” he said in a hushed tone.

“Saved me from what? Not that idiot Chitambo,” she said defiantly. “When the Minister hears what he did, that will be the end of the fat pig.”

“I think not. You see, your Minister is no more. He is the one in trabble. He is in prison. For treason.”

“You’re lying.” Patience almost spat as she yelled this into the man’s face.

“You weren’t so unflendry to me some hours ago. You were telling me that I had to come to you. So I have come.”

“Let me out of this place,” Patience screamed at him.

Instead the steward stepped forward and grabbed Friday from her clutches. Patience lunged back at him but the steward was ready for the fierceness of her maternal reaction. He slapped her face with a power that almost knocked her off her feet, causing her to stagger backyards. He quickly placed the baby on the bare floor and turned back to his quarry. “Now,” he said, “we are going to do some nice things.” Patience was left in no doubt what this meant and retreated backwards to a corner of the room where she could best defend herself, crashing into the clothes rail as she did so. He didn’t hesitate for even a second and sprang at her, quickly holding down her flailing hands. He pulled her roughly onto the bed, enjoying now the feel of her lovely if bruised flesh against his, and of her struggle, the effect of which was to instantly arouse him.

This wasn’t a maid or a toothless hag from the shabeen whom he might ordinarily have lured to this room. Her perfume was intoxicating; he had noticed the way she wiggled herself when she walked around what had been Tembo’s garden. The motion was so unlike females with whom he was accustomed to associating – women who wielded a hoe ten hours a day and smelled heavily from their toiling. This Patience was well above his station. To him she was the epitome of sophistication. Or she would have been in other circumstances. Now however, as his grip strengthened around her, he knew things had changed. This was a worthless whore. Chitambo had declared as much. The steward had every reason by his interpretation, to do with her whatever he wished.

As the man tore eagerly at Patience’s flimsy covering, Friday’s yelling started up again, but to the steward it was no more than background accompaniment to the music of Patience’s further desperate cries for help. The other servants could hear her but either dared not come to her aid, or they truly didn’t care about her fate. After all, this was a woman who had treated them like worthless skivvies. Like serfs. Now that her protector had been removed from the house, they perhaps saw no reason to look kindly upon her.

While the steward fumbled and groped, his clumsy hands scratched at the wounds which Chitambo had created with the viciousness of his cane. Poor Patience could fight no more. She tried to put the assault to the back of her mind as he forced himself into her and his crude, urgent thrusting began. She thought of her baby on that floor, and then of Sam. Kind, gentle Sam.

* * * * * *

Sandy Mackelson knew there was only one person he could trust to discuss the seriousness of his situation. It was Madeleine. There had been no contact with her since she had deserted the Residence and bolted to the Cunninghams’ home. Forced to do his own shopping at the dreadful Shoprite – where guards searched your bags on the way out, and held vicious looking dogs on leashes – he had seen her there one Saturday morning as he scoured the shelves in vain for the only breakfast cereal brand in Zungula which didn’t come with a free helping of weevils. He had tried to speak to his wife but she had refused to acknowledge his presence. A couple of weeks had passed since then. Mackelson calculated that now might be an opportune time to approach her again – to broach the reconciliation that he so wanted. Okay, he admitted to himself, even though he had survived after a fashion without her, he did miss her. She represented stability in his life; she had stimulating conversation; she was funny; their friends thought her charming, albeit in an eccentric fashion. Before their break-up it was to Madeleine that Zungulan guests at the Residence gravitated. She had a knack of making people feel comfortable. The house had not been a happy place at all since her departure.

It was still quite early on the Sunday morning, two days after Mackelson’s disagreeable dinner engagement with the President. He decided he would drive around to the Cunninghams and ask to see his wife. She couldn’t hide away forever, he thought. He shaved and put on a clean shirt and a pair of chinos. He donned a new pair of trainers, opting to complete a more casual appearance for once.

Madeleine was only five minutes away. As the big black Range Rover growled through Area 43, Mackelson appreciated the wonderfully sharp colours which the mornings always brought to Zungula. The sky was crystal clear; a bright blue which contrasted so pleasingly with the greens of the jacaranda and palm tree foliages overhanging the roads. Everything seemed so quiet too. He passed the Taiwan Embassy and wondered about the little man who had presented his credentials at the Palace the same day he had taken his own entourage. He hadn’t heard of the little fellow since. God alone knew how such diplomats justified their existence. Why, thought Mackelson, didn’t the Zungulans court favour with the Chinese instead? There would be far more to be gained, he surmised.

A few people were on their way to church. Zungulans in this part of the country were
predominantly Christian. They wore their Sunday best and carried their bibles and hymn books like an advertisement to their destination.

At the gate of the Cunninghams’ house, three dogs mouched around a dustbin which they had tipped over. When the watchmen opened up, Mackelson instructed him to right the bin and chase the dogs away. It wasn’t really any of his business but he hated untidiness.

The front door of the house was open. He wondered whether to ring the bell or just walk in. It would be right and proper he knew, to wait until invited to enter. However, if his wife was there, he didn’t want to give her the opportunity to disappear. So he walked straight through the hall and the living room to find Madeleine and the Cunninghams finishing breakfast on the rear khonde. Patricia immediately stood up and moved a step or two towards Madeleine, as if protecting her friend from imminent assault. The gesture was picked up by Mackelson.

“Please,” he said, “I am only asking for some time to talk to my wife.” Immediately he wished he had said “Madeleine”. He knew she hated use of the term “wife”, as if she was some kind of possession. The High Commissioner stood there looking helpless in the few seconds of embarrassed silence which followed.

“It’s all right folks,” Madeleine said. “I suppose we have to talk sooner or later.”

They left the Cunninghams and went for a walk to the bottom of the garden. Sitting together on a bench under the shade of a marula tree, one might easily have mistaken them for a middle aged couple still in love.

“Madeleine, I don’t quite know where to start, but I guess a sincere apology is the best place.”

“Humphh.”

It wasn’t the most auspicious of beginnings.

“I’ve been a clown in more ways than one,” Mackelson persisted. “Not only have I hurt the only person who really matters to me, but this short fling I had with Lucy Kanyerere now has deeper consequences.”

Madeleine adjusted herself on the bench so that she faced her husband directly. She looked into his eyes hoping to find real evidence of regret. But all she saw was fear. Fear for himself certainly; perhaps also fear for their marriage. She also observed that his nose hair was starting to grow back in profusion.

“It wouldn’t have been so bloody short if someone hadn’t shopped you, would it?”

“Maybe not. Now it is over however and nothing like that will happen again. That much I can promise. I hope in time you can forgive me.”

“Why should I? You’ve made a fool of me as well you know.”

“Yes, I know that now. Have you any idea who sent you that tape?”

“Oh, is that what all this is about?”

“Look Madeleine. I want you back, of course. But I’m also desperately worried about the origin of the recording. I had dinner with the President on Friday. He knows about the affair. He’s using it to shut me up.”

“Christ! You’re a fool,” she said with real venom. “How long have you been in the Dip Service? You must have known this could only have ended in disaster?”

“Please don’t rub it in Madeleine. We’ve got to find a way out of this.”

“We?”

“Yes, we. You’re right. It’s a disaster. Now I’ve come to you in total humiliation because you’re the only one with whom I could safely discuss matters.”

Madeleine knew she couldn’t let him sink completely even though she remained resentful about his behaviour. She was silent for a moment while she gathered her thoughts. She couldn’t be certain who had sent the tape but had obviously given the matter some thought over the last couple of weeks.

“The fact that the President has information about your affair may have nothing to do with the recording of your phone conversations. The Zungulans couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery, let alone something that required technical know-how.”

“I agree with you.”

“So I think you need Eric Stainbury’s help in finding out who has done this.”

“Good idea. Certainly he has the contacts. However, that still leaves me with a problem. How do I behave with the President? He’s made it pretty clear that he’ll find a way to inform DFA about the affair if I don’t keep my mouth shut about his third term ambitions.”

“Have you heard of joint responsibility? Why should you be the only one to put your neck on the block about his wretched third term? Get some of the idle European Ambassadors to do some work for a change. Tell them that you’ve had a crack at him and now it’s their turn.”

“You’re right Madeleine. That may keep me shielded for a while. And what about you? Are you going to come back to me?”

“Well, to be honest, I think I’m beginning to outstay my welcome with the Cunninghams, lovely though they have been. I’ll come back on one condition.”

“Anything.”

“I want a separate room. Permanently.”

At least Mackelson now felt he was making headway. He would have some support in his hour of need. Within half an hour, his wife had packed her things into the Range Rover and they were both on their way back to the Residence. Good old Madeleine. Solid and supportive when it really mattered.

* * * * * *

Sam Phiri’s handle on the GMB was making waves. None of his department heads had produced a satisfactory explanation for the unquestionable disappearance of newly imported maize, so he had opened up the entire organization to investigation by the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB). His remaining senior staff were now truly on their guard after three of their number had been shown the door with minimum severance pay. Sam had not replaced them. Instead he reorganized and piled more responsibility onto those who remained. It was time they did some work, he had said. The donors loved the man’s approach, not least because the external audit of the Kenya grain sale had struggled on for months but only come up with suppositions, rather than concrete evidence against known culprits.

The food relief operation in the North had also gone very well. There might still have been pockets of hunger but there would be no starvation – not this year. Thanks mainly to swift action from Beauty’s team in conjunction with the agricultural extension services, farmers had already planted the seeds for next year’s harvest; the short rains had come and maize plants were doing well in Zungula’s fertile soil.

President Chilembe, detecting the clamour up north in support of Sam’s nomination as Machope District Member of Parliament, had also called him to ask if he had political ambitions, and if so, for which party he would stand. Perhaps because he wanted to count Sam among his own, Chilembe had also stood by the decision to subject the Grain Marketing Board to ACB scrutiny. He had nothing to lose. He had covered his tracks.

Sam now travelled widely around the country, partly to see for himself how GMB operations might be improved. He also wanted to hear the farmers’ own thoughts, and to reassure them through a series of public gatherings that their ideas would contribute to internal reforms in the workings of the Board. It was all very clever and garnered a confidence that things were changing for the better.

If Sam’s working life had altered dramatically and truly propelled him into the limelight, he had failed to do anything about his domestic situation. He remained in the little Chabwele house at Top Rock in spite of the promise to himself that he would get out. Sitting outside one evening, enjoying the sun dipping below the golden horizon, Noah Bamidele passed by with two of his boys. Sam was delighted to see the children wearing neat blue school uniforms. Noah stopped to say hello and to thank his benefactor again. The boys were smiling broadly and looked as if they had bread in their bellies.

“And you can see Boss that the man you have mention, he gone straight to prison which teach him for doing wrong to you.”

“To be honest Noah, I am not sure that I agree with you. I can’t see that even he did anything to deserve Dedza.”

“He move against the President. That is why he go to that place. Only a change at the top can bring him out now. Or maybe they bring him after the rope go around he neck.”

Sam had no reason to feel sorry for Joe Tembo, but he could not accept that someone might be hanged for Presidential ambition. The notion was an extension of a deep seated tribal belief that ordinary men could not usurp the chief. Sam had long felt that tribalism was Africa’s undoing.

Then his thoughts turned to Patience. What of her? Surely she couldn’t be staying any longer in what had been Tembo’s house. For obvious reasons, since taking up with her lover, she had never turned to Sam for financial help. However, he couldn’t help wondering if she might need it now. The woman, however much estranged, was still his wife. There was no question that he could ever go back with her. Not after seeing her like that in Tembo’s office. But what of the child, he thought? It would surely have been born by now.

He remembered well the discussion he had had all those months ago with Beauty Musajakawa and Neils Hansen in the grounds of the Dombe Capital Hotel. “I am sure it will be a boy. But boy or girl I can say we will party small.” Of course there had been no reason for him to celebrate in the end. No mellifluous gurgling sound of a newly born in a cot which Sam had wanted to make with his own hand. He had almost got his emotions under control over the way Patience had treated him. Now he felt a deep sadness. Except he had never quite put from his mind the possibility, however remote, that the child might be his. How would he ever know if he made no effort to find out, he asked himself? As the night closed in, and he turned to light the little paraffin lamps, he vowed he would do so.

* * * * * *

The High Commissioner and his team were finishing up their Monday morning session in the slammer room. He had briefed them on his meeting with the President but embroidered things a little to give more of an impression of firmness on his part. At the meeting’s conclusion, Mackelson asked Stainbury to stay behind. When everyone else had gone, Oily was caught off guard when the infamous tape was placed carefully on the table in front of him. Sandy Mackelson may not have been the world’s most impressive diplomat but thirty years in the Service had taught him to observe people’s reactions, as much as listen to what they had to say. He was surprised to see his Second Secretary’s face redden like a turnip from a winter Fife field.

Mackelson had planned to tell Stainbury alone the plain facts about the tape’s arrival at the Residence, its contents and thus the reason Madeleine had taken up with the Cunninghams. He was going to ask the young spy to put his research skills to use; to help find out how the recording had been made. Now however, Oily’s discomfort was plain to see and Mackelson added salt to the wound by remaining silent, eyes fixed firmly on him, like a snake weighing up a rodent before it strikes.

Suddenly it was all perfectly clear. A foreigner tapping High Commission phones was about as likely as flying to Mars by Virgin Galactic. It had been an inside job. What’s more, it could only have been Stainbury. He was the bloody spook, after all. His brief was to obtain information covertly about the Zungula Government, and what the prime movers and shakers within it were up to. Mackelson knew now that the little toad had extended his terms of reference – to include his own kind. It would be crucial to find out whether he had done this on instruction from his London handlers, or entirely off his own bat.

“Why?” Mackelson asked simply. Oily squirmed in his chair yet the look on his face was nonchalant and held a glint of resentment.

“Because of the embarrassment you might have caused to our Government.” It was a pompous response and Mackelson blood began to boil.

“You took it upon yourself then, to wreck my marriage rather than tackle me direct.”

“The main reason I sent the tape to Mrs Mackelson was because I couldn’t work out for myself, who you were seeing. I guessed your wife might recognize the voice. Beyond the shock of hearing the exchange, I figured she would have the fortitude to tackle the woman and thereby put an end to what was going on. It appears that my strategy worked,” he added arrogantly.

“You’re a bloody fool and disloyal to boot.”

“Ultimately my loyalty is first to our Government.”

“How did you do it?”

“Do what, High Commissioner?” Oily asked, maintaining a feigned semblance of respect for his senior.

“How did you record my phone conversations?”

“I don’t have to tell you that. But it won’t do any harm. Now that you know it’s possible, I don’t suppose there will be anything more to hear on your line which would be out of the ordinary.” For someone so young, his cockiness got up Sandy Mackelson’s nose and now he felt like punching in his smug face.

Oily stood up and invited the High Commissioner to follow him through to Registry, and from there to the door which was always locked, and which the top man had never thought to ask what lay behind. Oily almost delighted in explaining the capability of the devices which the room contained. His ability in effect, to listen in to anyone in the building and to simultaneously record. “It’s for our own safety really,” he said, seemingly convinced there was no issue. Mackelson was staggered.

“May I ask what, if anything, you have said to London about my association with Mrs Kanyerere?” he asked, gritting his teeth.

“Nothing. I was waiting to see if any true damage had been done.”

“As I said next door, you could have saved us all a lot of grief if you had had the balls to speak to me about it, rather than behaving in such an underhand way.”

“High Commissioner, you may not like it, but I was doing my job.”

“That’s what the bloody Nazis said.”

Mackelson walked away. He was relieved to know for sure that “unfriendlies” hadn’t got their daggers into him. However he had found no solution to the problem of Elliot Joseph Chilembe – the President’s unequivocal attempt to subvert his effectiveness.

* * * * * *

He hadn’t seen his wife for many weeks but Sam Phiri reasoned the first place to enquire about her would be the former home of Joe Tembo. The servants were bound to know something. When his driver collected him from Top Rock that Monday morning, Sam asked to be taken there. Within ten minutes they had arrived at the house. Most places were conveniently close in Dombe. Sam got out of the big Toyota and spoke to the gate guard with authority. Phiri didn’t want a debate.

“Open the gate. I am here on behalf of the President,” he lied. The watchman thought this perfectly plausible given the fate which had befallen the previous occupant of the house. He immediately unlocked and swung the gate open. Sam walked in, leaving his driver outside.

Staff were cleaning the house. Some broken furniture had been shunted to one end of the living room. A number of open boxes lay in the same corner. These were full of personal possessions which Sam presumed were Tembo’s. His heart skipped a beat when he noticed that some of Patience’s shoes were protruding from the top of one box. One of the maid’s came forward and asked if she could be of assistance. Sam decided he would embellish the line he had taken with the watchman.

“Dzina lako ndani?” (What is your name?) he began.

“I am Lovely.”

Sam couldn’t help a smile. As a Zungulan, he was used to it, but he found it amusing the way some African women were still given such names, and throughout their lives, they repeated these without a trace of self-consciousness.

“I can see you are doing a good job here. In preparation for the new Minister. I just wanted to be sure that all was in hand. When will the house be ready.”

“Ah. Just as soon as they bring the new furnitures and also take those things away,” she said, pointing to the boxes.

“And what of the woman?” he asked.

The maid looked down at her feet and would not meet his eye. It was obvious she was concealing something.

“Lovely. I asked you a question.” She was embarrassed and Sam had to urge her to speak a second time.

“That one, she was hit by the Police. And then the steward took her to his ples.”

“Is it far?” he asked, imagining from the way the maid had spoken that the steward would not live on the premises, and he had given solace to Patience in her hour of need.

“It is just here. Behind the house. She is there now with the baby.”

“Show me,” Sam instructed.

The maid looked uncomfortably towards her work-mates who had now stopped their cleaning activity and were listening intently to what was being said. Lovely put her polishing rag down and took Sam around to the back of the house. He could see that probably half a dozen servants lived in these quarters. The exterior walls hadn’t been painted in a long time and were filthy with ruddy brown marks, a product of heavy rain splashing into the surrounding red earth. Window frames were rotting; the corrugated rooves rusting. The servants quarters looked outrageously squalid, juxtaposed against the grandeur of the main house.

The little compound had a smouldering fire on the bare ground. A couple of blackened pots beside it indicated where someone had done the previous night’s cooking. A black and white kitten was lying close to the open door of one of the rooms, stretching in the sunshine.

“It is that one,” Lovely said, pointing to the room occupied by the steward, and now evidently, Patience as well. Sam walked over. He could see nothing through the tiny window as the kanga was obscuring any view from outside. He tried to open the door but it was locked.

“Are you sure she’s inside?”

“Yes, Master. The steward has the key but he has gone to the shop.”

“Patience! Patience! Can you hear me?” Sam shouted, imagining she might be hiding, not wishing to see him after all that had happened between them. “Patience! It’s me!” At last he heard something. First it was the baby’s cries and then a quavering voice which he hardly recognized as his wife’s; he couldn’t make out what she was saying.

“Stand back,” he shouted, “I am going to break the door.”

It took him several runs, barging at the frame with his shoulder, but eventually the woodwork gave way. Patience was lying on the bed. She was wearing only a man’s shirt. Her face was bruised and her lips were swollen. She was in a very sorry state. The room was rank and malodorous; bits of food were lying on the floor. Flies were tapping lightly against the covered window, trying to get out. Sam’s eyes turned to the infant lying beside Patience and his heart filled with compassion – for them both. He tore the kanga from the window and helped Patience wrap it around herself. The baby looked well enough, and its lungs were certainly suffering no ill-effects from the three day incarceration. For such a tiny specimen it was certainly capable of unbelievable amplification.

Cautious Lovely had disappeared but that didn’t matter. Sam had achieved what he had set out to accomplish. He had found Patience. Now he felt there was urgency about taking her and the child to the nearby private health clinic. He could afford now whatever treatment they might need. Patience could tell him about her experience in that little hovel, when she was good and ready.

Twenty minutes later they took their place in the clinic waiting room. It had the reassuring aroma of disinfectant, in contrast to what they had left behind. Sam sent his driver back to what had been Tembo’s home, to fetch as many of Patience’s belongings as possible – before the vultures took everything. He would offer his wife refuge in the Chabwele house for as long as she needed to recover from her ordeal.

The doctor was a little Indian man. He gently examined Patience’s body. When her shirt was removed, Sam recoiled, seeing the extent of her injuries and the welling cuts on her back which Chitambo had been responsible for. The other man, that steward who had imprisoned her in his foul little room, had abused her further. Sam concluded as much without a word to that effect from his wife. A nurse was called to help treat the wounds. As she was doing so, Sam drew the doctor to one side and whispered softly so that he could not be overheard.

“She has been raped, I am sure. Please can you do the tests. For the Edze.”

* * * * * *
“PERSONAL
To: Sir Jeremy Gallant, KCMG (by electronic mail)
Permanent Secretary
Department of Foreign Affairs,
King Charles Street

Dear Sir Jeremy,
It is with deep regret that I am writing to offer my resignation, not only from the position of High Commissioner in Dombe, but also from the Service.

Some weeks ago I was tempted into a short extra-marital relationship. It lasted no more than a few days but I fear the damage I have done not only to my reputation and Madeleine’s, but also to this mission in general, now requires me to stand down. A Head of Mission must set an example. Unfortunately I have not done so, at least in this regard. Any affair would have been unwise but unfortunately my indiscretions involved the wife of Vice President Kanyerere.

I am aware, following a long career in the Service, that diplomats are always potential targets for entrapment. I had made every effort to be discreet. The manner in which my transgressions were discovered however, unsettled me. A member of my Consular staff (whose loyalties lie with another service) recorded one of my telephone conversations with Mrs Kanyerere, and then sent this anonymously to Madeleine. News of the affair was soon broadcast more widely.

Facing such ignominy was bad enough. The crunch came on Friday night when I was having dinner with President Chilembe. I was tackling him, not for the first time, on his now publicly declared intention to run again. In response he referred to my relationship with Mrs Kanyerere, and implied that I should watch my words in future. This was an obvious attempt to pressure me into silence. In the circumstances I think it is impossible for me to go on.

I await your instructions.
Yours ever,
Sandy Mackelson
High Commissioner”

He and Madeleine had sat up until late the previous night discussing his options. Like the king on a chess board, surrounded, and with nowhere to move, they concluded there was no escape for him either. The letter had to go. Now it was up to the powers that be in London. They could either stand behind him, a course which seemed unlikely, or he would be recalled. Removal from a post was always a rather shameful thing, unless like a former Ambassador in Uzbekistan, the individual had, in the eyes of the general public, stood his ground honourably. There was a sort of honour too, the Mackelsons supposed, in jumping before being pushed.

* * * * * *

Patience had been back at the little house in Chabwele for a week now. Her cuts and bruises were beginning to heal. She was feeling much better and so happy that little Friday had shown no ill effects from the ordeal. She shuddered to think what might have happened if Sam had not come looking for her. She might still have been imprisoned; forced to continue in the role that the steward had determined for her. As a provider of sex in exchange for the little food and water that he brought from the house. Sam had been so good to her. He hadn’t once mentioned Joe Tembo.

When she first entered the house she had looked around in amazement. Most of the furniture, and everything that she had left there was gone. One sunny afternoon as she sat outside on the ground with Friday in her lap, she saw a woman walk by wearing a dress which had belonged to her. She had been tempted to run after the stranger and demand back what was hers. She saw, however, that this would have been futile. Patience couldn’t blame Sam. Her present demise was all her own fault. She had no idea how much longer her husband would allow her to stay. She almost wished the healing of her wounds would slow down.

That evening, her husband returned from work looking nervous. She stood at the jiko, stirring stew; the sort that Sam dreamed about when he had got that first big rise to Head of Department. With beef, shu-shu, nandolo and nyemba.

“Come and sit Patience. There is something I want to discuss.” She took her place on the simple wooden chair and looked at him with concern. What could it be, she wondered? Maybe this was the time he would tell her she had to go. That he was fed up sleeping on the floor while she occupied the bed.

“I have been to see the doctor today. When you were with him last week, I aksed him to take some blood from Friday – to do some testing.”

“Is he ill, Sam? No. Please don’t tell me he is ill.”

“No Patience, it is nothing like that.” His eyes began to fill with tears. “But I am his father.” He had gone through so much heartache. Now to have been told this news, he thought he would burst with the emotion of it. Friday was truly his and not Joe Tembo’s.

Patience began to weep as well. It was not so much out of happiness for Sam, but shame. Utter shame at the way she had been. Like the worst kind of trollop.

“Can you ever forgive me Sam?” she sobbed. Her husband was relieved at his sense that these were genuine, and not forced tears.

“I can try to forget, of course. Like your wounds, I will take some more time to heal, I am thinking.”

They hugged a little. Not like lovers would; more like friends. But it was a start, Patience thought. A good start.

“By the way,” Sam said eventually. “The doctor aksed you to go back tomorrow for your own test results.”

“Did he tell you anything?”

“No. Just that you must go.”

* * * * * *

PERSONAL AND IN-CONFIDENCE
To: Mr S Mackelson
British High Commission
Dombe

The Permanent Secretary saw your offer of resignation while he was in Bucharest and discussed it with the Foreign Secretary. They have asked me to send this interim reply.

The Foreign Secretary agrees with your conclusion that it would be difficult now for you to perform your duties satisfactorily as High Commissioner. He has discussed the matter with Personnel Department and the conclusion reached is that you should return to London as soon as possible, and not later than the end of next week. They will then discuss your future with you in more detail. For the time being the Foreign Secretary has asked me to tell you that no firm decision has been made about whether to accept your resignation.

The matter of who should succeed you in Dombe is difficult. It is unlikely this could not be achieved immediately. Personnel Department will be giving the matter urgent consideration over the next few days.

Yours sincerely,
Jennifer Wylie
Private Secretary

That was that then, Mackelson thought. In a way it was a relief to know. Already DFA had none too subtly dropped the title of High Commissioner from their letter. Still, there was the crumb of comfort that he might retain a job in London. He rang Madeleine. She told him not to worry. Good old Madeleine; still solid as a rock. He called Heather through to his office. “I’d like you to assemble the entire staff please, in the downstairs foyer. I have an important announcement to make.”

“Aid people as well?” Heather asked, as if the request had been routine.

“Yes. It affects them too.”

* * * * * *

Four days later, Sandy and Madeleine Mackelson boarded a British airliner at Elliot Joseph Chilembe airport. As they sat waiting for take off, Madeleine bravely held back her tears. Seasonal rain began to batter against the aircraft windows. Below, Zungulan men who were loading and refueling, carried on regardless. Madeleine wondered if they had dry clothes somewhere, and then realized that no, this was Africa. People had to make do. They weren’t mollycoddled like workers back home.

Madeleine’s friends who had come to the airport to wave them off, retreated back from the viewing gallery of the departure lounge and dashed out of sight as the rain began to lash. There was a flash or two of lightening which unaccountably sparked a thought in Madeleine’s mind of the dark Nkonde carving which Noah had sold to them – the one with the hundreds of nails driven into it – and she wondered if her instinct had been right all along, that in some unfathomable way its hidden powers had contributed to her husband’s ultimate demise. Too late now, but it occurred to her that they should get rid of it when they unpacked in England. She thought also of Mary and how well all the Residence staff had looked after them both. She wiped away a tear when she considered the little darlings at SOS Children’s Village. Hopefully, someone else would volunteer to play with them. She would miss Dombe. God knows, she would miss it.

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