Many years ago…..(the Chinaman Cocoa planter of Gabundi Estate)

April 16, 2015

Many years ago in a dusty airfield in Northern Uganda

The Chinaman Cocoa Planter of Gabundi Estate looked on impassively from a distance – as the last of the lumbering twin propeller driven Dakota’s prepared to take off from the make shift airfield – he wondered to himself whether it might be too heavy to make it cleanly off the ragged field. Then again the distant rents of approaching artillery shells reminded him – this is as good as it gets.

Somewhere nestled in the crammed to the brim fuselage of the Dakota was his one and only love – Eva Meyer. They didn’t even have time to say good bye. It was a hurried affair. The renegade pilot demanded his Rolex. He thrust it into his oily palms. Endless jostling. A sea of scrambling humans all with only one thing in their mind – to get the hell out of this shit hole. Somewhere in the melee, their hands separated. The door slammed closed.

As the plane picked up speed against the wind, it roared and whipped up a dust storm….goodbye my love…he muttered to himself…He remembered that final look when the door closed…he reckoned, the German nun must have thought he would be taking a seat beside her. But he knew better. This was Africa…and life is cruel, with these stray thoughts swirling in his mind. The unforgiving realization slowly dawned on him that no matter how much he wanted to be beside his one and only love to take off into the sunset like the final moment of redemption that featured in all Hollywood movies – he would have to content with watching her slip right out of his fingers just then…life his cruel…he muttered again to himself, this time turning towards a knot of refugees as they covered their faces with their kheliffa as the engines kicked up a dust storm – he clucked his tongued as he wondered to himself whether he might be like one of them…another desperate tragic soul left beside in this miserable war that was starting to sweep Uganda like a fire storm.

For a while, he wondered to himself whether he too would wail like them, close his eyes tight…like them…scratch his head…like them. Look up to the last departing plane hungrily…like them. And wished that he had a seat…like them. 

All the while the dust swirled around mixed with the sweat, spittle and wails of thousands of simmering…desperate souls…he wondered to himself whether we would end up like one of those faceless pulsating whimpering souls. He flashed them a hard look of wounded despondency that just managed to betray how much he objected to their neediness. At that moment when the dust storm blotted out everything, the Chinaman experienced a rare moment of epiphany – he realized he was not like everyone else…

In the distinctly wonderful way only he could have arranged his thoughts to think the things that swirled in his mind just then – the Chinaman had answered a question that resonated deep inside him. If he was indeed different from all other men that day who watched on hungrily as the last plane in Uganda barreled towards the minty blue safety of the skies. Then maybe he did not really love that German girl with the blond hair.

When the lumbering plane finally lifted off, ten feet short of the end of the runway – the Chinaman lit his last cigarello, inhaled and looked  for the first time that day at his tall Matabilli tribesmen bodyguard. Together they smiled.

And when the metallic bird banked hard to regain airspeed to break out from the death grip of gravity – the familiar clang, clang, clang of automatic gunfire began to rent out. But the Chinaman continued to smile wryly – he knew nothing could ever bring her down.

His eyes remained trained on the diminishing form of the plane as it cut through the flak covered skies. He noted the slight whine and felt a wave of reassurance that came with the knowledge the pilot had began to open up the throttle.

In a while the burgundy rage of flak subsided as fast as it had begun and soon the plane disappeared from sight completely. What was to follow was an alien sensation that swept through the desolate soul of the Chinaman. A gut wrenching tug that tore right into his heart ripping it’s way like a molten bullet. 

The Chinaman breathed hard and wondered to himself again as the plane slowly disappeared from sight – ‘If I do not love her, then why do I feel this aching pain?’ He scanned the steely skies this time with his field glasses, in an attempt to snuff out that smothering yearning that could only come from regret from not being able to escape to freedom with his one and only love. The Chinaman grit his teeth hard and wondered – what is this strange force that is laying siege to the watchtower of my heart? 

He wondered where Eva Meyer would go after this. Would they ever see each other again? He was even felt the acute grief that came from wanting to inhale her breath in darkened hours of infinity and to feel the pain of regret when in the morning, the sun would ruefully ripped them from their death grip embrace and throw them out into the cruel world of light. He wondered to himself how his days would u furl without her by his side – would he mourn her passing? Did he even have it in him to fumble through those waking hours without her. He even wondered whether the days would from now onwards feel so long that it might even threaten to scrunched-up his heart and leave him a wreck like one of those whimpering souls who were left behind.

Above all, as the Chinaman stood there like a solitary tongue of light long after everyone had moved on – he wondered to himself how he had allowed a pathetic German girl he hardly knew to lay siege to his being….an insurmountable fortress – in most cases one which has been built around him brick by brick from his many travails – he chuckled to himself like a deranged man when he toyed around with the notion. The perverse reality could well be while he secretly craved the forbidden fruit of reassurance which could really only come from being in love, which he could really only experience from a kindred soul such as Eva Meyer – he was also frightened of what opening that draw bridge might deliver. The Chinaman loathed the very idea charging through the gates of his heart may well be the apparitions of something he could never ever exert control.

On the sixth night when a meteor streaked through the night sky and illuminated an ambushed French armored column – the Chinaman and what was left of his ragged Adomako tribe donned the dead uniforms of fallen legionaires and resumed theor long march along the serpentine roads of Kufu and Khilahsa leading to Sudan – when they finally reached the Sudanese border, even the normally trigger frisky Ma’alia border guards hardly gave them a second look as they strolled right through – the whole entire country had after all gone to the dogs.

————————————————————

Seven years ago, during dinner in Wheelock place Singapore.

Dotty: “What is it? If you don’t like the watch. I can always take it back to the shop and change it. What is it dearest? Really I can get another one…..I just want you to be happy.”

Man: “It’s just…”

Dotty: “Just what?”

Man: “It’s nothing. I am happy Dotty…merry Christmas.”

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