For several moments the two of them lay there in silence.
‘How did you get out?’ she asked after a while, her voice sounding strange, as if she was trying too hard to sound normal.
‘They let us all out to fight for the new Government,’ he told her.
She risked moving, raising herself onto one elbow. ‘Is he dead?’ she asked.
‘Looks like it,’ Diba said coldly. It was funny – he would have expected to feel something after killing a man, but he felt nothing at all. Unless he counted being aware of the need to make sure he was not caught.
But he did remember how angry he had felt. ‘Who was this man you were fucking?’ he asked in a threatening voice.
‘Just a customer,’ she lied. It was her experience that men who got it for free did not usually feel jealous of those who had paid.
She was right. ‘You been prostituting yourself?’ he asked, with an anger that was less than convincing.
‘While you’re in the prison I have to eat,’ she said, risking some self-assertion for the first time.
He reached out a hand and grabbed her by the plaited hair. ‘You sounded like you were enjoying it,’ he said.
‘Men like that need to think they’re making you feel good,’ she said.
He grunted and let her go. He wanted to believe her – he always had. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘But you’re all mine again now – got it? And we’re getting out of this shit-hole.’
‘I haven’t decided yet. You got anything to drink?’
‘No, but I can get some beer from Winnie’s. It’ll take five minutes.’
He grabbed one of her cheeks in his hand and held her eyes. She was so fucking beautiful. ‘You wouldn’t disappear on me, would you?’ he asked.
‘I’ll be five minutes.’
‘I’d kill you, you know that.’
‘Yes, I know that.’
‘Right.’ He let her go, watched her slip the dress over herself and head for the door, careful not to look at the prone body under the window.
He supposed he ought to do something about that.
He put his trousers back on, grabbed the corpse by the feet and dragged it out into the courtyard. Anja had left the gate open, so he carried on into the darkened street, his ears straining for other sounds above the scrape of the man’s head in the dust. After fifty yards he decided he had gone far enough, and simply left the body in the middle of the road. With any luck they would think he had been hit by a taxi in the dark.
Back in her room Anja was engaged in opening one of three bottles of beer on the edge of the table. He took it from her and sprang the cap off, remembering doing the same thing at other times in the past, in that same candlelit room.
‘Do you mean you’re in the army now?’ she asked.
He shrugged. ‘They want us to defend their revolution,’ he said. ‘They’re going to give us guns in the morning. And then…I don’t know. But I’m not going to get killed for a bunch of fucking politicians. I’ll take their gun all right, but who I use it on is my business.’ He smiled. ‘And I’ve got a few ideas on that myself.’
‘The Englishman who caught you,’ she said, before stopping to think.
‘How do you know about that?’ he asked angrily.
‘It was in the newspaper’, she said. ‘Someone showed it to me.’
‘What was? What did it say?’
‘That you were caught at the hospital by an Englishman, that’s all,’ she said. There had been more, but she reckoned he would not want to hear the details of his humiliation.
‘It was bad luck,’ he said. ‘But yes, I owe him.’ And the doctor too, he thought. He had had her naked once, and he would have her naked again, only next time she would not have the white bastard there to protect her. He would make her kneel for him.
He looked across at Anja, who was just as beautiful as the doctor, but had grown up as poor as he had. He felt the old desire mounting in his body. ‘Take the dress off,’ he said.
The column of five open lorries, each carrying twenty ex-prisoners, rumbled through Serekunda and south towards Yundum Airport. It had been light for only an hour or so, and the heat was not yet oppressive. Diba sat alongside Konko, the Kalashnikov leaning against his thigh, watching the countryside go by. He was not very happy with the situation. A town man, he felt much more confident of melting away into the scenery when it was composed of shanty compounds. Outside the town he felt too conspicuous.
Still, he had had no chance to get away again since returning to the temporary barracks an hour before dawn. Most of the other nocturnal absentees had also come back: like Diba they saw little hope of escaping the country under the present circumstances, and no hope of anything but longer prison terms from a returning Jawara. For the moment the new regime was their only friend – not to mention their only source of weaponry and ammunition.
The lorries with the Kalashnikovs had drawn up outside the barracks just as dawn was breaking, and the men had been told to claim their guns as they boarded. The new regime was obviously not composed entirely of fools.
Diba wondered if he really would find himself in a battle before the day was over. Not if he could help it, he told himself.
‘Where do you think we’re going?’ Konko asked him.
‘The airport,’ Diba replied. It was a guess. There was nothing else of any importance in this direction, only three hundred miles of villages. Unless of course the new government had decided to invade the rest of Africa.
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