His walk along the beach last evening had assisted him tremendously in replacing his anxieties with the fond memories of the past. Mombasa was, to use an ancient phrase of seafarers, where his ship had come in. Strolling casually with the ocean lapping at his bare feet, trousers rolled up, he’d remembered how by candlelight, moonlight and starlight, his child-goddess and him had chosen their live crabs and lobsters, had them grilled, then ate with their fingers, stargazing. Their first grand soir romantique. She’d danced with him to the tourist trimmed drums and instrumentals, laughed and smiled mysterious enchantments which, to him, rustled with the palm trees around them, and came in the Wagnerian waves of the ocean only a few yards away from them. Her words murmured were like the warm, gentle night breeze that caressed his nostrils with the smell of the ocean. After dinner, having no idea of credit accounts or the like, she’d asked him, Heart, are you forgetful or a bit of a criminal? because he’d not paid for their dinner nor the lunch earlier that day at the hotel room where he’d almost savaged her.
She’d been seducing him ardently for weeks. Him resisting, her insisting, and so they’d concocted the idea to pretend to go to the offices of Shipping & Forwarding at Mombasa to fool her duenna, Aunt Nyowuor, so they could go to the Carlton for the sex she craved so much. Then suddenly, practically naked and caressing, she’d changed her mind, sending him mental; he hated teasers. He tore her blouse and began to undress himself but she made his heart stop when, with both hands, she’d held a letter opener pressed just between her breasts, the skin around the point turning pale yellow. My corpse, you can have with all my blessings, she’d said, her snot and tears running down her face, to end up in and use her mouth as a mixer.
A couple of hours after that he proposed to her and begged for an eternity for her to say yes. She continually shook her head so vigorously he told her if she didn’t stop she’d break her slender neck. Already he felt a nasty column thrusting within him, thick and dirty and aiming for the atmospheric sphere and spreading out like the bloom of the Hiroshima bomb. For a beat he asked himself if all the women who’d pestered him with marriage – after Claude of course – had felt like he now felt when he’d derided their proposals. Especially Nadia, whom he’d been fond of for years. Had Nadia felt like this every time he rejected her wish for them to get married? For years and years? He’d been at it only for a full hour or so.
It was the longest half hour he ever lived, to sort out his and Gudinna’s arguments about families, mixed marriages, age differences and Luo traditional norms. About the fact that they hardly knew each other, that their worlds were planets apart and they had nothing in common. But he was convinced heart and soul that this little mystique of a child-woman was the reason he’d been born, the missing half of him, the salvation of his restless soul, his love incarnate.
Argued on and on. He’d been on the verge of turning venturesome and migrating to Mongolia or serving in a Tibetan temple or something, when she finally said yes to his repeated proposal.
I sincerely hope you didn't break anything on your way down to earth. Some Goddess you are. What else could he say? She was child and seductress.
That evening after dinner (having no idea of that alien known as credit card), she’d asked with unbelievable but genuine innocence: Heart, you didn’t pay for our lunch and neither have you paid for the dinner, so, are you forgetful or a bit of a thief? Spoke her mind with the honestly of a virgin bolt of lightning.
They walked along the beach in the moonlight, barefoot. He felt free.
That was when he told her he’d been planning to adopt her. Now he was going to have both, he said, daughter and wife. Even she agreed he’d made a smart move – no taboos, all nice and legal. They’d giggled and he felt like a teenager again, kicking in the waves, chasing them in and letting themselves run backwards, away from the roaring waves coming after them. They came to the El Bahar Cove and sat on one of the smoothened juts of rock, companionably silently, holding hands and watching the mighty ocean in the moonlight, the ships coming and going. They were the only human beings on earth.
On this same night, driving back after the El Bahar Cove revelation, he’d asked her for the first time to spend her first night in his bed back at Bamburi House. She’d stiffened with panic again, her eyes shining RAPIST, once again seeing the man she’d had to stop earlier that day with a letter opener.
Relax, my precious soul. All I want is to have you in my arms for the rest of the night. I won't touch you. Cross my heart and hope to die!
She relaxed with the complete trust of primitive innocence. For the millionth time that Saturday, he was gone. Zoomed to outer space.
Finally, in his bedroom, he’d had another hard labour to persuade her to take her nightdress off. Why should she, civilised people didn’t sleep naked, or?
He’d eased the nightdress off her and let her keep her knickers on. Folded her to him, her apple breasts pressing on his naked chest. He caressed her skin that felt as smooth as an infant’s and more. Like a soapy mirror without the wetness. His palms had seemed to slip on it. C’est un coup de coeur, he said silently to himself, thinking that whatever love he’d felt for Claudette was but a spec of dust floating in the universe compared to what he now felt for his little mystique. He’d never had a deeper sleep than he had that night.
The next day they’d gone sailing. He taught her rudimentary sailing a bit, kissed and touched her a lot, did sketches of her in her bikini bottom while she wore his unbuttoned oversized shirt flapping around her, his flea market navy captain’s cap on her wild mop of hair. They’d had a sumptuous picnic anchored in the middle of the Indian ocean. And then she’d asked him another of her flooring questions, naïve, innocent, virgin-bolt-of-lightning deadly serious.
As he guzzled beer straight from the neck of the bottle, delighted in making her blush when he merely winked at her, or call him naughty when he patted her buttocks and called them "pretty cheeks". Pretty cheeks, she said, made her feel as if her backside had an independent face of its own.
But then came the question, as guileless as untouched nature.
May I ask you a rather indiscreet question, heart? she’d said with her head tilted to one side. Like a curious little girl in all her innocence about to ask why, when naked, mummy and daddy looked so different in their anatomical features.
Ask me anything, princess, however indiscreet.
Why didn't you marry Nadia?
He’d roared with laughter, coughing his beer out of his mouth in a geyser. What a compliment from the girl I just asked to marry me. Thank you, princess. You're a master ego architect.
No, heart. I mean I'm really puzzling over the fact. You both left Madagascar and came to Kenya together. You were in all respects common law husband and wife. Why didn't you marry? After all, you knew her long before you met Frances, for example...
At the time, none of them, not even Gudinna and himself, could have imagined that Nadia would remain with the two of them for the rest of their lives.
Beyond that, in fact. Far, far beyond that. He hoped so anyway.
His best moments were always when he and Gudinna and the children sailed together out to sea. No building. No telephones. No meetings but the joy of coming together with and seeing his nuclear family around him, assessing how much the children had grown, advanced, developed their individual characters, what subtle, small and big changes the children – and himself – had made on Gudinna’s body and mind. Their mysterious Earth Goddess Mother full of wisdom and nature’s vast impartial love. The boyish hips were more feminine, the flat belly had a tiny Aphrodite bump just above the pubic hair, the apple breasts now more like oranges with tiny brackets underneath that disappeared when she raised her arms, lay on her back or straddled him. The dark chocolate nipples his children – and himself – had suckled on while she was lactating. She had grown from puberty to full-blown womanhood in his hands. These moments when he emptied his mind of all else but his precious family, the wind, the vast sea, the sails his only collection of files.
Who would have guessed it’d all come to this fucking tragedy.
He was at his desk in the Star Two, heading for Nairobi at seven Monday morning. Now he emptied his mind of all else as he went through a special version (done just for him) of the General Assembly’s World Economic Survey 1978. It was considered “a survey of current world economic conditions and trends, the light of its responsibility to promote the solutions of international economic problems, higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development.”
Nice phraseology as always but, by Thor and Odin, it was always each for himself and his own. Devil take the rest. He continued reading the overview of the salient developments in world economy in 1978 and the outlook for 1979. Activities had as a whole weakened globally. Erik started analysing his companies one by one. The Lindqvist Group of Companies consisted of fifteen separate entities, some of which also had subsidiaries:
The Lindqvist Antiques International (his first baby, started way back in 1952 as Lindqvist Antikt & Porslin, based in his home city Gothenburg, before he spread it out to London, Hamburg, Frankfurt and across the pond and eastwards to Hong Kong and Japan). Lindqvist Transexperts Ltd (land and rail transportation, Africa) Lindqvist Motors Ltd (franchise on Japanese motor vehicles, Africa) Lindqvist Office Machinery & Equipment Ltd (Africa) Lindqvist-Wilkinson Charters Ltd (Africa & Middle East) Lindqvist International Investments Bank (international) Lindqvist Shipping & Forwarding (international) Steade-Lindqvist Oil (Canada, Mexico) Lindqvist Commodity Trading (global) Pascaine-Lindqvist Aerodynamics (USA, Canada, South America) Lindqvist Hydrodynamics Engineering (USA, Canada, South America) Lindqvist Wool Farms Pty (Australia) Nakamura Lindqvist Steelworks (Japan) Lindqvist International Real Estates (global) The Lindqvist Mining Enterprises (Africa, Asia, South America)
Maybe he should add something generous to the Group, he thought after drawing out eight pages of columns for each company on a large pad. A foundation. Or a Lindqvistoxfam Plan International. Something that would give him oceans of space to play around with the taxman. As he continued reading the world economic survey, he jotted down the pros and contras in the columns under each heading of his companies. For Africa and Asia he was particularly concerned with a number of policy implications. The policy further complicated management of the balance of payments in developing countries by the combination of price instability in primary commodities and international inflation. Devise ways for external financing, he jotted under Investments Bank. Developed market economies need to reduce inflation and payments imbalances, he jotted under another company. Salient feature 1978: decelerating growth of total output of the oil-exporting countries, he wrote somewhere else…
Monday, the Big Day, was finally here. The children were excited. One way or the other. Joyce was excited. One way or the other. Excitement and anxiety. What lay ahead in that suite at the Clinique in Glion-sur-Montreux? Would Khira’s pulse and blood pressure keep steady or shoot up again, sending her machines frantic in the presence of the kids? Should all of them go in at once or the Big Three first? Joyce’s head was filled with cotton wool caught in intricate networks of spider webs. A hundred per. Nothing clearly came off the tangled mess. Nothing that made sense anyway. She’d wanted this. Planned it. Used Advocate Jean-Pierre Khan for the application of legal leverages. Talked to St Germain at length, consulted with Danielle Hoffman. A hundred per. Joyce pillowed her head on one forearm across Khira’s desk. It was here, in Khira’s office, that she felt nearest to her girlfriend when such thoughts tortured her. And where she could telephone in privacy (in a house full of domestics) with her own husband, kids and mother back in Kenya.
Again she fought not to let the tears break out.
Last night, with Loyana in her arms, she had a curious dream. She couldn’t remember the details now except the part where she arrived on horseback (horse riding was purely Khira, not her) at the scene of Loyana’s initiation. It was in the middle of a misty forest with a stream trickling along, breathing more swirling fogs on its surface. The naked Loyana knelt as if in prayer looking into a silver bowl filled with water that duplicated the girl’s image like a mirror. She heard women’s voices but could not see any of them. Not even Khira. There was a vague shape of a hut, like some unreal riverside hamlet in Huckleberry Finn. Her mount’s breath whooshed in the breeze and fog. She could hear her own heartbeat, the rush of blood in her ears, her breath rasping. The next thing, she swooped down, like a Genghis Khan Mongolian soldier, and like the proverbial knight rescuing the damsel in distress. She swooped down on her mount and picked up Loyana in mid gallop, swung her on the saddle in front of her and set the mount streaking away like lightning. Loyana’s yards long loose tendrils whipped her face and blinded her, but no. She rode on as if blindfolded, the girl’s hair snaking into her nostrils and open mouth, stopping her breathing. But no. She wouldn’t let it happen. You’ll not make a sacrifice of her, you bloody witches! she screamed at the dismembered voices, turning in the saddle in all blind directions as the voices got louder and louder. The horse repeatedly came up on his hind legs, making her stand up in the stirrups while keeping a firm hold of Loyana to her breast, reins in one hand. Voices louder. And nearer, billowing up with the mist and fog as she blindly tried to escape this endless forest…
“Auntie…” a drowsy Loyana had wiggled in bed, waking her up from her nightmare. “Don’t squeeze so hard… almost can’t breathe…”
“Thank God,” she’d mumbled, her face drenched in sweat. “I mean, go back to sleep, sweetheart. It’s just that I had a frightening dream and held on too tightly to you. Sleep, my love.”
Joyce hadn’t been able to go back to sleep. And anyway it was already seven in the morning. In another hour breakfast would be served. And after breakfast the Big Trip to Glion-sur-Montreux was next on the agenda. Loyana had promptly gone back to sleep.
She’d held and stroked her gently, thinking, her worries mounting.
The family breakfast had lasted an hour, then she had excused herself to come and call her husband and family in privacy, here in Khira’s office.
Now here she was, even after reassurances from Jimmy and Mum that she was doing the right thing, being the most wonderful girlfriend in the world, riddled with doubts. Stuck in a bit of a hole, ain’t I now, Candy, she murmured to the spirit of Khira.
It was nearly twenty past nine. Time to go and gather her clansfolk and the chauffeur for their drive to the real Khira.