‘I trade coffee’

October 11, 2015

He certainly did – trade coffee, that is. He bought low. Or what at least he thought to be low. For most the time, eight out of ten Mr Koreana managed to sell high or at worst even out his losses. Mr Koreana was adept at playing the game of caprice against the vagaries of the coffee commodities trade.

He preferred to deal directly. At source as he liked to call it. Usually traveling along the neckline of the bay of Guinea shaped like a shoulder of a sleeping woman – he bought only between the months of November and December just before the dreaded Harmattan when humidity drops to less than 15% when weights and scales are truest.

In the curelean evenings when an almost paraffin blue sunset renders the Sierra in Leone Mr Koreana knows that’s a sign the ochre winds will blow relentless from North Africa to the cape of Guinea, sailors in the Coite de noire cursed as the sea of blood. He buys again then only the Parsees gypsies who caravan salt comes deep into the interior of Africa in April when the sun is at it’s highest and moonlit as pirates on moonless nights. Besides they don’t ever take exception to the shoulder holstered pistol he wears beneath his summer creme suit. He thought them reasonable and considerate.

Only to sell them high thru out the rest of the year like how De Beers corners the diamond trade to keep the price of diamonds artificially high thru the successful marketing illusion of creating scarcity when there was more than enough to go around – that’s how Mr Koreana squared off the lousy odds when the market dealt him a curve ball from time to time.

During the hard years when it’s impossible to beacon out the murk of Mother Nature’s design . She can’t help it Mr Koreana would often remark on deck only for the capricious wind to steal his words as if even they feared the sea herself would hear it…usually, he mad allowances for that siaow charbor often remarking – she can’t help it, the bloody moon affects her – when the loses mount while his wins dwindle and Mr Koreana makes do with maggi mee and one egg. He always instructs his secretary to send his khaki linen suit to the dry cleaners along with a Panama, changes out his a wafer thin Constantin for a Rolex submariner – he was a man who always like to go to the very source for produce – like the man from Del Monte – that what they called him Dumon only because in Creole Francaise along the Congo, the common failing amongst the coreoleans was the inability to curl the tongue at the ridge, which made Dumon much easier than Del Monte. In the Congo at the prestigious shamagh , they considered him an honorary Le Sapuer de Extraordinaire Afrique… Mr Koreana the man who only wears a well pressed khaki suit and Panama who likes nothing better than to refer to himself as Mr I trade coffee, wasn’t you regular foreign businessman in Africa prospecting for new markets or in search of the highest quality coffee bean.

He knew Africa as only someone who has lived another life in Africa could. Knew it so well that he should never ever stop even he saw a corpse lying in the middle of the road in Lagos, because the moment, you touch, then you would have to pay for the man’s funeral that typically last for seven days and nights and involves the entire village and probably includes free flowing nooch…he knew Africa with that sardonic bitter sweet condescending grin like how during an internal flight when from Nairobi to Uganda, when the starboard engine burst into the flames all he could do was look at it with curiosity. A trait one only acquires in Africa. He knew Africa well enough to make out the odds of whether to call off his bets…walk away within his winnings on the magnetic rigged roulette table at the Metropole in the french quarter. Or to play thru the night. Knew like knowingness – strange don’t you think so for man who seems to be able to just manage to blurt out whenever the conversation turns to work – I trade coffee.

Knew Africa so well that he knew when coffee supplies ran dry as they sometimes do due to the Amsterdam cartels successfully cornering the market by snapping up all the bean futures – the bazaars of the clove paradise – Zanzibar would always have a surplus stash of contraband beans hijacked by the Kaia pirates. They much prefer to regard it as their version of free trade African style which they refereed too as ‘Shimah!’ When the sun hangs high. Somewhere in the tiny Arab quarter where the streets are still so narrow that only one person can walk at any one time – where everyone lounges like lizards with a hookah laced with hashis and speaks in murmurs and sip cardamom laced tea – In the wide open court yard Mr Koreana trades beans along side the Omani Kiswahili merchants whose Ma’ai negro bodyguards armed with gold plated a-47’s guard over their masters. In the square north east of the Arab quarter where the third minaret of the Masjid stands like the leaning tower of Pisa and perhaps no where else on this planet – bids for illicit beans are conducted by strange shapes one makes with their fingers like how slaves were once sold and bought during the Atlantic wars – Mr Koreana installs himself in a rattan chair to the east facing balcony that was once the preserve of the Medici’s, who once prospered thru slavery and the clove trade in East Africa – a young boy holds out the earthen bowl with beans. He picks only one and rolls it between his thumb and index finger and brings it to his nose. For a moment his eyes glisten with interest. Beneath him the rest of the traders jostle in a human swirl of frantic hands making a field of strange gestures like plants that eat and when it seemed the bid could no go higher, the whizhar (auctioneer) looked up expectantly at the man seated at the balcony….who incidentally just happens to be the man who the world knows to be Mr I trade in coffee. He man responds with a casual jab of the index finger followed by three flips of last three fingers..it’s sold…in a dead and forgotten language that only those who once traded in slaves could understand…’his teeth were bad, but I bought him nonetheless, this would make up for the three guineas less than what I am supposed to pay you! The elders seated in the West balcony, turn to each other and begin murmuring, while the traders beneath stilled in anticipation…then slowly the elders begin to raise their white canes…it’s sold.

But tell me my dearest perceptive reader – what’s really was sold? Mr Koreana would of course insist – I trade coffee.

Truth usually lies at so many levels of lies – when a man responds with a casual jab of the index finger followed by three flips of last three fingers at the auctions in Zanzibar….it could mean one of many things…it could mean exactly what it meant as I describe it earlier with not the slightest embellishment…but that day in the crowded courtyard of the bazaar – it meant, he would pay in what Africans term white gold – ivory.

Mr Koreana now the man who just doesn’t trade coffee…he also dabbles in illicit ivory as well.

Maybe that could be the reason why Mr Koreana smiled wryly like a fox two weeks later when he returned back in Singapore – perhaps that’s the girl whose different from all other girls was seized by an inexplicable compulsion to pause. Put her knife and fork down during dinner only to turn and ask of him…

‘Do you really just trade in coffee?’

To which he answered, ‘I trade coffee.’

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