A veil threat or an olive branch

November 18, 2014

During breakfast. An elder of the village came over to sit with me. We spoke about many things. Then it rolled out quite unexpectedly….he told me not to fight with everyone. He mentioned it was important to keep the peace in the village – that no man is an island and though one may aspire to great wealth…what is the point, if one doesn’t have any friends.

He did not offer an apology concerning the group of businessmen who tried to cheat me over a land deal one year ago.

It is very hard to know what this all means…..is this a peace offering? If it is, then why does this elder not mention about those men who tried to cheat me…..where is my apology? Or is this as good as it gets. Am I supposed to move on based on just this?

I don’t understand. Really I don’t.


Many years after Africa in a bistro somewhere along Old Crompton street London.

“I must find out his pain. I must know his story. I must find out how did he see right through into my heart of hearts? One cannot after all read about pain – it has to be felt.”

She had studied the man when he taken her to a cafe – she noticed the proprietor spoke in a French Provence vernacular reserved for only either family or friends. They knew each other well it seems. So well that they even occupied a horse shoe seat just behind a hidden corner of the counter. Maybe they knew each other from another age thought the 41 year woman.

As they spoke, her eyes wandered across the many picture frames behind the counter – most of them hung clumsily and listlessly like old emptied wine bottles left out just to gather dust – in one corner she could just make out a black and white picture of the man. Her eye was naturally drawn to this one – as most of the picture collage the French speaking man hung behind the counter were happy color photos – this one was sombre in black and white and printed on low quality chemical film paper; the year zero woman could tell, the nitrates had began to eat at the extreme edges. A failing common to cheap chemical film paper when it fails to stabilize properly. She reckoned the photo was processed in some third world country, she was right – the typeface Kampala was faintly written with a crayon – the year zero woman had after all once dabbled in photography, she was after all an artist in her own right. And that evening, her mission was to find the pain of this man who had allowed him the insight to see her pain in marvelous completion. Through her 50mm no aberration multi coated practiced eyes – the year zero woman began to peer deeply at the photo.

“I must find it…his pain…I know it’s there. On the way here, we spoke about birds. And I remember…he told me the swifts in July are usually reddish stained from the Ochre winds that blew across the Ivory Coast. She knew the man had once sought his fortune there…perhaps this was where he got the money to buy land from?”

This image depicted the man wearing a bush jacket walking with a AK-47 slung clumsily across his back on a dusty country road – the man looked pensive, with his head turned to the camera. As if someone had shouted out his name behind him suddenly when the photo was snapped. In the foreground there was a line of Africans, mostly women and children, some with carts and a couple of scampering goats – they had fear in their eyes; they seemed to be fleeing from something that was on the left side of the photo – the side that the photograph did not capture. In the background, not too far from the man, a pillar of black smoke rose from a burnt out tank – the pillar of smoke scarred across the steely skies. The year zero woman zoomed in on the image of the man again. She realized, she had made a mistake. Someone didn’t call out when photo was snapped. The man had deliberately stopped and looked back. She noticed his arms had a languor about them like an athlete spent after a sprint. A smudge ran across his cheeks. At that very moment – the year zero woman noticed the same expression that she had seen in the man’s eyes that evening when he had suddenly appeared before her from nowhere – she saw the same aching bittersweet expression of a man who had made peace with a good thing that had come to an end. There was even a hint of defiance in those eyes – but amid it all, the charred tank, the scared expressions of scampering natives, eyes that conveyed a complete understanding to the year zero woman – she was looking at the name and face of a man who simply bore the tragic expression of knowing what it means to LOVE a thing with all your heart and to suddenly LOSE it all.

“Maybe the man had stopped on the dusty road and looked back at beloved farm when they had razed it to the ground.”

She began to reflect – from the horse shoe seat where the year zero woman sat – she had a clear view right through into the kitchen. She could make out the lean V cut shape of the man. He had taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves to cook. His hands moved swifly, precisely and purposefully. He flashed her a smile. It said, “Wait till you taste this.” She flashed him back, “I can’t wait to try it!” And she returned to the image of the lone man again in the photo – as the year zero woman began to look at the image one more time – She couldn’t but help wonder whether perhaps this same man who was simply a farmer at heart; whose only goal it seems in life is to happily plant row after row of palms – this man who she now saw in the present. This man who was now cooking for her. As the year zero woman looked on at the man. She understood. Not completely, but, she understood nonetheless – a least a part of how the man had seen right through into her most private thoughts.

From that moment, the year zero woman was now reincarnated into the one minute twenty seconds woman – like the start button of a stopwatched being clicked – she had begun to live that other yet to be written chapter of her life. Till then she had merely existed, but now she was living – as that evening as the five minute and ten seconds woman looked out at the man she insisted on calling the gentleman planter – she realized only a man who had suffered as much as her could possibly have understood how she felt – only such a soul could ever love her. As to love the by now ten minute fifteen second woman – the mythical lover had to mirror the same shattered dreams and all this, the twelve minute one second had seen in the faint black and white image of the man walking with his head turn ever slightly on the dusty road to Kampala.

The 41 year old woman had once fleetingly heard rumors that the man had once gone to Africa to seek his fortune. It seems he started a make shift goldmine with a chieftain and even tried his luck at growing figs – but lost it all when civil war broke out. Or maybe he didn’t – maybe this was where he made his money from?

In another photo, this time one much more recent. The man now sported a mustache. The proprietor of the cafe was making a funny face and had his arm around the man who was standing beside a Chinese woman. In the background the woman could just make out the faint outline of the Singapore skyline. In the foreground, a comical pram with three toddlers- the man is this picture looked proud like a father. He was wearing office clothes. Smiling. They were all happy.

These images only fueled Chan Sim’s growing curiosity about the man. Who had by now began taking off his jacket, rolling back the sleeves of his tight turtleneck to even cook alongside the proprietor. Who had even insisted that he stay and do a tandem for the evening crowd. The man had flashed a “up to you?” to the 41 year old woman on bar stool on the only kitchen table top in a Nouve cuisine restaurant in Old Crompton street where diners and chefs were only separated by five millimeters of tempered glass – the man and the proprietor cooked for the guest who streamed in that night; when he cooked for the diners; he choose only the menu’s that made it possible for him to serve up amuse-gueules to the 41 year old woman. The culinary art – where a little goes a long way – from time to time, the man would sit across the 41 year old woman as she took his creations – creations that he had with tender loving care that made passionate love to her taste buds, suffusing them with endless streams of perpetual orgasm of the gastronomical order of Nirvana. With no added MSG. From time to time, the man would sit and they would simply talk over Pinot. Somewhere between the dance of whipping up dishes for the diners, serving up delightful amuse-gueules to the 41 year old woman and simply sitting down and chatting.

The 41 year old woman could make out the precise nature of the man. He was trim and fit like an athlete – his hands moved with a practiced ease like a professional. From time to time when he worked, he would look up at her as if saying, “watch this!” Or, “tell me what you think about this when it melts in your mouth.” The 41 year old woman knew that the man moved well in the kitchen; she knew this was a form of seduction. A form and shape that she had never seen before. but nonetheless, it was a form of seduction.

The 41 year old woman wasn’t just a dumbo rich man’s daughter – she knew that the man who streamed in an out of her life that evening when she sat on the only barstool in the designer Nouve cuisine restaurant was a highly skilled seducer. She may even have suspected that destiny had nothing whatsoever to play with their chance meeting. It could well have been planned by this man who could cook for an entire restaurant, fashion dishes for her and still be able to hold an engaging conversation all at the same time – that evening as the 41 year old woman looked deeply into the eyes of the farmer – she did not even care to be known as the 41 year woman any longer – by her fourth amuse-gueules, third glass of Pinot and conversations ranged from the humorous, playful to serious – the 41 year old woman no longer saw herself as the 41 year old woman who she was – she had been reincarnated as simply a woman. A woman who had somehow managed to step back into a time machine to a distant age somewhere in her happy past – where she only saw the world in terms of bright and bold splashes, colors that just popped up. This she was able to do that evening with the full knowledge that the man who she knew as the gentlemen planter was none other than the mythical lover.

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