Another fine and windless day, figs ripening at the back on the White Genoa fig tree. Neighbours brought their grown son over to admire the baby Great Dane who behaved like a lunatic. I felt quite ashamed of my pup because he ignored all the commands he usually obeys and ran about barking happily and jumping at the visitors. The son did not think the dog a beauty and a fine handsome beast. He looked as if he thought his parents needed their heads read to associate with a badly behaved dog like this. So embarrassing. After they all left, the dog sat down obediently and waited for his biscuit.
A little less keen to read Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 after finding it has been nominated for a Bad Sex award.
A freshly made ear and a freshly made vagina look very much alike, Tengo thought. Both appeared to be turned outward, trying to listen closely to something – something like a distant bell.
If you can’t tell your lover’s ear from her tutti frutti, the sex is not going to have a certain anatomical frisson, is it? Why freshly made? And her name is Fuka-Eri which sounds, well –
Woke up from a dream about Mozambique in which I was a small girl again, on my way to another school term at the convent school in the port of Beira, travelling through Manica and Sofala provinces on the night train from Vila de Manica, sitting all alone with a penknife in my cardigan pocket in case I needed to defend myself. Nobody thought it was unsafe for children to travel long distances on trains back then. We were English-speaking and that would keep us safe.
When I woke up I remembered the cities of Portuguese East Africa as if they were tumbled together, all the broad avenues lined with palm trees, the public gardens filled with exotic trees and hibiscus flowers, pavements inlaid with mosaics of blue tiled azulejos, the white and blue churches, the troop ships in the bay at anchor next to dhows sailing in from Dar es Salaam. A society frozen in a bygone colonial era.
I remember learning to write and speak Portuguese and Latin, a Portuguese dialect nobody spoke in Europe any longer. When I travelled to Lisbon, I could not make myself understood.
Mozambique then was caught up in civil war, a struggle for independence, but nobody ever talked about this. Everyone worried about malaria and each morning after school assembly and Mass in the chapel, a health official would order us to form a long crocodile line across the playground so he could take our temperatures and send us off to the sick bay if we looked unwell. The nuns who taught us would shake with fever when they taught and their canes would rattle against the blackboards. In those days Mozambique was still Moçambique, a colony in Lusaphone Africa.
The cedilla I saw for the first time in a classroom in Beira, the tall nun pointing to the tadpole in white chalk wriggling on the blackboard that was in reality a faded green board. Above the blackboard, a black-and-white clockface and above that a crucifix.
‘This is how you write the ‘ç’ in Moçambique,’ she said. ‘This is how you write the ‘ç’ in Lourenço Marques. Lourenço Marques is the capital city of Moçambique, da colónia de Moçambique.’
The blackened teak desks with round holes for ink wells. Shielding my eyes from windy glitter of palms across the road from the school. The flies hammering against the windows panes, the windows closed to keep germs out. The steamy heat like a wet cloth held over our mouths and noses.
When I woke up from the dream that was also a detailed memory, it amazed me that I could recall that time so clearly and how much I had loved the strangeness and tropical heat of Mozambique. A classmate from Tete province told me the devil ran away from Tete because the heat was worse than hell. Even though I had bout after bout of malaria, I did not want to leave Beira and go back to being a Scottish Presbyterian at a respectable government school. Who would?
Maybe a new fiction will come out of this. The last stretch of Nanowrimo and my Underground Library story is completed at 17 000 words and ready for (a great deal of) revision. Thanks to everyone who was a writing buddy and I hope it went well for you!