Author Jarda Cervenka discovers that reality is often stranger than fiction while living and traveling in East and West Africa. In this collection of stories set in Africa, he describes how those who do not belong, suffer-and then want to return to the Dark Continent again.
His tales recall a calm village man whose best time in life was the Biafra war, two young Americans who hitchhike to Lake Baringo in Kenya, and a Peace Corps volunteer who disappears in the deadly Niger River delta. He also tells of a young businessman from Baltimore who is in love with an Igbo girl-and who encounters a prostitute in an unusual circumstance while on a business trip in Lagos. In another tale, a Californian professor with malformed feet travels to a deep jungle to learn how to construct orthopedic shoes, which change his life. Finally, three adventurers, kidnapped by ruthless robbers, get help from a French secret agent and a dose of luck.
Life in Africa can be grim and disturbing, but there's also humor, humanity, and lots of adventure in the Four Thorns of Kilimanjaro.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Four Thorns of KilimanjaroStories from Africa
By Jarda Cervenka
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Jarda Cervenka
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSalima On The Governor's Bed
"There is no story that is not true," said Uchendu, friend of Okonkwo (Chinua Achebe).
She caved in her cheeks and sucked his middle digit, tightly enclosed in her lips. He called them the lips. The scorpion that had stung him in the fingertip was dark brown, so there was a question whether it was the black species or the brown species, since they both vary in hue. The sting of a black scorpion would result in two days of misery and fever and his arm would swell like a Polish sausage. The sting of a brown one would hurt for three hours, then not even a swelling. Bad luck either way, just before his long agony of a drive to Lagos.
She took his other hand, put it under her blouse on her breast, and smiled at him with her eyes only. She could do that. She could do many such puny things that made him shake his head from side to side.
Her breasts were small. He understood it was a matter of fat. There just was not enough adipose tissue in the boondocks of the Igbo-land of eastern Nigeria. All women were like her, except the elephantine wives of the local "big man." He calculated that, here, the thickness of subcutaneous fat was directly related to the thickness of one's wallet. The reverse situation was found in his native Baltimore. The thought of Baltimore awoke an image of "shopping Colleen" shopping, and he shivered.
"It hurts so much?" Ngozi asked, releasing his finger from the wet cave of her mouth.
"Oh no, sweetheart." Jacob forced a smile back. "It just pulsates, as if you'd get a little electrical charge with each heart-beat." Jacob contemplated: what to bring her from Lagos? It shouldn't be a problem;
she has nothing, zilch, nada. No jewelry, no clothes really, no books, nothing. He was actually grateful to that miniature lobster with the ugly stingers for these moments. No pain, no gain. He felt a pleasant sensation around his stomach.
Yeah, maybe he'd bring her a nice watch, gold-plated and pretty, with a fancy band. No Patek Phillippe, mind you, but a reliable instrument. Or a gold necklace, fourteen karat. She would jump six feet; she would glow, blush. Well, he wouldn't see blushing on her dark face, but she'd told him, during their intimate time, that she actually feels blushing. It could be felt, but remains invisible, just like a surge of sympathy or love—invisible on the outside.
Ngozi removed his unfortunate digit from her mouth, looked at it, and announced gravely "You must eat onions." Pulling out his finger made a cheerful sound, like uncorking a bottle to begin a celebration. They smiled at each other, and she put her face close to his. He rubbed her unprotruding nose with his. "Like Eskimos greeting each other," he said.
"Yes, Eskimos. Inuit. These are people living far north, in the land of ice and snow you know. Very tough." He felt her nipple rising mightily—but the driver should be here any minute. He removed his hand. "You know how the Inuit call making love, in their language?"
"Do I live in a land of ice and snow, to know?"
"Well, they call it 'to laugh with a woman'! How about that! 'To laugh with a woman.'"
She became serious, thinking, then her smile narrowed her eyes. "We have laughed," she exclaimed. "Jacob, we laughed; we laughed. So it is true!" She jumped up.
Just a touch of hysteria, Jacob thought, and realized he liked it that way. She had taught him contentment, step by step, each step just a small and simple joy, and he learned eventually, his knowledge of happiness increasing. She took from her snakeskin bag two mangos for him of the variety he preferred, small and yellow with a thin skin.
"I think the driver is here," she said. Her eyes always amused him. When she narrowed them, they acquired an oriental slant. Just pretty, if you'd ask him. Painfully, he didn't want to go to Lagos. Nobody wants to go to goddamned Lagos!
He walked to the window, nodded, picked up his travel bag and, seeing a tear on her cheek, did not kiss her. "Three days." He raised his hand, made into a fist; revealed his teeth, dragged himself through the door and, without looking back, climbed into the back seat of the air-conditioned silent luxury of a Mercedes Benz 500 SL. He was not excited about this business trip, did not like to leave her with that teardrop descending on her cheek in pulses slower than his throbbing pangs, leaving a shiny path like a snail would rushing over ebony. Three days, he thought; the tear will dry sooner. His eyes began to fill.
* * *
Jacob Dolan did not get into this predicament by his own will and trying. It could be argued that the opposite of will brought him here. He was almost content to exist in his—or their—world in Ellicot, the sterilized, pretty green, benign suburb of Baltimore. The remote Abakaliki in Nigerian Biafra was not a different world for him but a different planet in the Milky Way. (It was Colleen who'd asked him once why they named the galaxy after the candy bar.)
Yes, he'd visited the tropics before, with Colleen, his girlfriend, but the resort in the Bahamas was, strictly speaking, only subtropical, and hardships lasted only half an hour. (In the tiki-bar by the kidney-pool, they ran out of crushed-ice and had to use ice-cubes in the piña-coladas.) So Jacob saw everything in Africa through glasses of his life-experiences, which were lenses thick and warped enough to provide bizarre distortions. It took him a month to throw the imaginary specs away and let his mind discover and wander on its own.
* * *
Past Enugu, Neiji, the fearless driver, accelerated. He drove in the Oncoming lane often, increased speed through thickly populated villages, passed a lorry with the inscription "No Competition in Destiny," actually touching it, let the steering wheel go with both hands, to rest them a while, and more. Jacob decided not to pay him any attention. Interesting things, some even bizarre, could be seen through the tinted windows. The trucks were always painted with either celestial themes or gruesome images, and all had inscriptions in big letters: "Hosanna in the Highest," "Jesus is Good Athletics," "Stop; don't kiss," "Lazy man, no food for you. From Action Boy." A truck with "No Controversy. God is Motors" was parked by the sign "Illegal Storage of Oil," which was a four-by-two stand of sticks, shaded by palm fronds, selling six cans of motor oil. It stood next to "Oil Depot," a smaller stand, selling three cans of oil, which stood next to a seller of fried slices of yam.
They stopped there, stretched their legs, and Neiji bought fried yams. Jacob watched his weight. In vain. A tiny child, a naked girl, appeared as if from nowhere. With opened mouth, she stared at his belly. He returned the gaze at her protruding stomach. One belly of plenty, the other belly of kwashiorkor, but neither of them understood the etiologies, and therefore they smiled.
He was not a youngster anymore; his mother had been telling him for the last fifteen years. He was forming a second chin; there was a germ of a beer belly; and his problem hairline had started to recede one centimeter every six months. But his hair did not show any silver streaking, and his teeth had not yet elongated. And he felt his heart to be unchanged, still immature, rejecting the reality of an inevitable process which had just about begun to pull over his face the mask of decrepitude. Watching certain members of his family, he became certain that aging is a premalignant disorder, complicated by mental deterioration of different forms. How unfortunate and ridiculous, he mused in his monologues to himself, that the heart remains so absurdly youthful within this landscape of destruction.
Ngozi possessed the attribute some self-proclaimed experts value the most in women—youth. That was a fact. And so she was beautiful—like puppies of all mammalian species are beautiful.
He was an only child. He suffered no unusual psychological deviations, and because he was a diligent pupil, an obedient boy, and his dad had been loaded, Jacob Dolan lacked nothing, at least nothing in the eyes of his peers and parents. At the persistent insistence of the old man, he had dropped a major in biology and switched to economics, which led to an MBA from St. Thomas College, in St. Paul. In the way of least resistance, he had agreed to a job in his father's company, and hence the assignment in Nigeria.
There was a load of zinc in the ground here, and lead ore with silver, which could be mined easily. So far Jacob had dealt successfully with the local big-shots, mostly government people, intelligent highwaymen all. They were all delighted that he would contribute to their enrichment, invest heaps of pretty green American dollars into the local—their—economy, and enable imports of more Mercedeses and VCRs, PCs, RVs, XLTs, and one Harley Davidson Fatboy Anniversary Model with power package and porker pipes, pearl violet. A real looker. For the Commissioner of Education, who thought the bike would look nice against the background of the thatch-roofed mud huts of South Ezza, his native village, and who imagined his folks, either standing there either at attention, or amazed, or keeling over in astonishment.
The big men treated Jacob with a special concern for his well-being. They provided him with a government guest house with guards, armed heavily at all times, and coils of razor-wire on top of a ten-foot concrete wall that circled the house and a single dogon-yaru tree (with leaves so bitter that the native healers, medicine women and ju-ju men, prescribe it against malaria, despite its uselessness). Jacob did not complain that the view from his window reminded him of a set from "Sing-Sing Story," because he was safe and comfortable beyond the wildest imagination of local citizens. About food he couldn't complain honestly, either, because its consumption made him lose weight painlessly, to retract the protuberance of his belly, to cause his facial skeleton to become defined, giving him a more youthful look. "Don't you think?" he asked Ngozi. She did not answer, only smiled.
"How is my body? Come on!" he insisted.
"Okay," she whispered, looking away. It became their private joke: "How is my body?," loudly. "Okay," in a whisper, averting her eyes.
The meals were no joke, private or otherwise. They were served in an unchanging sequence of either pounded yam or garry, a mash made of cassava flour, with soups—soup, that is what the sauces were called: bitter leaf soup (bitter), abono soup (superslime with a pleasant taste), or ebosi soup (with dried catfish pounded to a powder), and, sometimes, coconut rice (his favorite) and very good salads. Jacob realized that here, on the Black Continent, one had to make one of two choices: either to favor the cardiovascular system and eat salads and suffer diarrhea, or to favor the gastrointestinal system, eating no raw vegetables and subsequently having civilized visits to the bathroom. He chose the former, with the inevitable results.
* * *
They had been on the way for a couple of hours. He thought about her. Ngozi means "blessed," but her Christian name, she confessed, was Hyacinthia. Too botanical for a Christian name, he told her. Was Colleen a Christian name? He and Colleen had been living together for a year now, but she threatened to move out, giving him some hope and expectation for ending the unchangeable routine of copulation every Wednesday, in the traditional position. He called it stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, after the Christmas carol. It did not become their private joke.
Colleen was, as she put it, "dead set against this stupid trip to Nigeria." But she lost to his father. Daddy had always been the boss, hands down.
"Don't worry," Jacob told Colleen. "It will not be like a safari, with a nightly two-inch slab of medium rare eland steak on the campfire, chased down by a papa doble, and a Wakamba girl on the side."
"Excusez moi. What the fuck are you talking about?" she'd retorted. "All you'll get there is the same sort of malaria. Get a grip, nut." He liked a couple of Colleen's body parts, but her brain, the seat of the soul, had been his major grievance. She would be desperate here, would Colleen. No shopping. Period. And no soap operas, no estate sales, no stock market. Only the bush market.
He loved those. Bush markets were held on four market days of the week. Like bees to a beehive, the women of surrounding villages would congregate from all sides of the compass, buzzing with gossip, their goods balanced on their heads, walking like antelopes at an unchanging pace. These incredible athletes were sculptured as finely as Olympians, in colorful wrap-arounds that always came undone, most of them barefoot, all clean and fresh, erect, graceful and beauteous beings. They sold everything from dead horses to dried chameleons, wonderfully shaped and colored fruits of unknown species, like "purple testicles" (Jacob's name for them, Ngozi's favorite) or melons the size of a wheelbarrow, from calabashes to Bohemian beads, everything except the angelic children sleeping between the goods and produce.
"When I grow up," Jacob announced to Ngozi, "I wanna be bush-market supervisor!" When she laughed she often put her hand over her mouth, as Japanese women do. At such times, when she held her hand over her mouth, he knew that life was good because it was so interesting. "Interesting," this very plain word, was in his mind all the time. Definitely an underused expression in Ellicot.
Interesting were his beloved treks through different villages around Abakaliki, where people already knew the strange onya acha, pale eyes. People everywhere out in the country smiled at him; they liked their white man. Young ones talked to him, showing off their "English," old men smiled widely, remembering "masters" and "father" and saluted—young women bent their knees, with arms extended down by their hips in a curtsy, and giggled. But grandmothers—they truly adored him, actually loved him, and when he would clown with them just a little, they would disintegrate. Some wanted him to stay.
Trekking is the Igbo/English for a power walk. Jacob had to trek; he couldn't jog as he used to at home, because Ngozi told him that only thieves run here. "Besides, a rich man like you should hire a Fulani or a Hausa man to jog for you." She tried to sound serious.
Now, after three months, the little joyous moments revealed their cumulative effect and added to one large soft comforter of happiness. He wallowed under it with closed eyes and mouth stretched in a smile from ear to ear.
* * *
When Neiji, the stoic and driver, missed only by inches a rugged group of lepers begging with exaggerated grimaces, Jacob woke up from his daylight dreams. He asked Neiji how much longer this trip would be and received the assurance "six hours." Jacob translated that to "eight," which did not include the anticipated five or more army and police roadblocks. Neiji stopped for roasted corn on the cob on the border of Oguv State by a few mud huts under the sign "Welcome to Golden City Ososa." They had to stop once more near Agbor to add water to the radiator from a creek flowing between a two-room "Hotel Intercontinental" and a "Psychiatric and Orthopedic Traditional Hospital. Approved!" Then it was a long haul till darkness, till Lagos.
* * *
The city with its evening traffic, was a deranged reinvention of Hell. There shouldn't be any confusion with purgatory; it was Hell. Old Hieronymus Bosch would delight at the recreation of his fantastical inferno. Dante was here.
But Neiji slapped on the roof of their vehicle a blue rotating light, Courtesy of the State Government, and thus they managed to avoid many disasters and, finally, reached the enclave of the fat, rich, and exuberant government employees—Victoria Island. Their final destination, the walled-in compound owned by the State Government, consisted of two structures: a two-storied house for the State's guests and big-shots visiting Lagos and, next to it, the house for exclusive use of the Governor himself, when His Excellency visited the city from Abakaliki. The stark architecture fooled Jacob for a moment before the caretaker unlocked the several locks of the Governor's domain. He entered such affluence as only the old boy himself, Abdulsalami Ububoy, would have dared to write a government check for. He'd ordered to have his Lagos residence provided to Jacob Dolan since he knew a thing or two about PR and investments.
Excerpted from Four Thorns of Kilimanjaro by Jarda Cervenka Copyright © 2012 by Jarda Cervenka. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsSalima On The Governor's Bed....................1
Infallible Weapon Of Temptation....................20
The Best Time In Life....................47
Shadows Of The Baobab Tree....................56
Four Thorns Of Kilimanjaro....................65
The Matter For The Management....................86
The Ambush 13....................3
And Then There Were None....................196