Beautiful Land

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
Jake and Butani share their secret when we travel up country in war-torn Ghana

Submitted: March 31, 2017

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Submitted: March 31, 2017

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Beautiful Land

 

A crowd had gathered around us, a sea of black figures clothed in retro western fashion; faded baseball caps, tee-shirts with washed-out logos, trainers, once white, now ingrained with the red dust of the land.

Buti, you mean?” Jake slapped the side of his bare leg and inspected his open hand. He gave a grunt as yet another mosquito escaped certain death.

Yeah.” I gave a quick glance at the man sitting between us. “Who is he?”

We were sitting around the rusty oil drum under the Baobab tree, its sparse branches offering an apology for shade under the vast African sky. My shirt was soaked. What the hell were we doing here? I read the label on the bottle in my hand; Bushtucker Lager, export only – keep refrigerated. While the warm amber liquid offered some consolation, I longed for the cool evening breeze to arrive.

While most of the crowd were squatted on the ground within the shade of the tree, the three men who had escorted us on the final leg of our journey held their position against a wall of the nearest hut. I could now get a better look at them. One was in his thirties and the other two who accompanied him were merely boys in their early teens -- one hardly big enough to lift the Russian SKS to his shoulder, let alone fire the thing. My own Caprivi, designed to stop an elephant in his tracks at fifty paces, rested against the wall alongside them. It had cost me a fortune and I now wondered if I’d ever get it back.

My gaze was met by a threatening scowl from the older boy. I quickly averted my attention to the gathering around us. It was clear that not one of them understood a word of English, and yet, all waited for Jake to continue.

I had to get a few answers. (The warning that MPCI rebels were raiding villages across the border from the Ivory Coast was clear enough). So why, at five that morning, had Jake insisted that we leave the relative comfort of our hotel in Accra to make a four hour trip across country to this God-forsaken place? And what was so important about delivering the package by hand to a man who, as far as I know, had nothing to offer in return? All that afternoon, I'd been watching the two of them walk hand in hand accompanied by the whole village; through the maize field, along the irrigation channel, an inspection of a new borehole and pump. Jake can hardly put two words of Ashanti together and the man who had been hugging him and clasping his hand all afternoon only communicated with him in sign language.

Jake took another swipe at his leg which left a bright red smear against his calf. This brought about an excited round of tongue clicking from the gathering.

His real name is Butani Ruandi, known him for twenty-three years now. Always called him Buti.”

At least that cleared one thing up. Jake is a dark horse at the best of times and I was beginning to wonder if he'd been harbouring a secret from me all these years. Not that I’m homophobic, but hearing Jake refer to his friend as Beauty all afternoon made me wonder.

So, how is it that you dragged me all the way out here?” I gave a quick glance at our three minders leaning against the wall. “And how the hell are we going to get back?”

No worries, mate. They’re here to protect us.”

Getting information from Jake was like getting a visa passed by the Accra GAAU – unlikely to happen before the third attempt. Jake looked up and studied me for a moment.

Listen Mate, this is the only village around here which can supply the rebs with food. They only know about fighting, not the first thing about farming. I’ve been up here twice since the place was taken over and there’s not been a single murder or rape. It’s a pact.”

I accepted his assurance for now and moved on.

And what’s with the package?” I asked.

There was a pause as Jake leaned back against the tree and took a swig from his bottle.

Third of this year’s wages.” The words were tossed away so casually that it took a while for me to catch them.

A third? Of your salary? Jesus! You’re joking man! What the hell for?”

Jake rested his foot on the oil drum and I could hear a murmuring from the wall behind us.

See those two marks?” Jake pointed to his ankle.

Two white pin points stood out against his tanned skin.

Demon -- Bush Viper.”

These words produced more tongue clicking from the crowd.

I was nineteen. On my first trip out here. A bit green… and very stupid I guess.” Jake nodded towards the man sitting between us. “If Buti hadn’t found me I wouldn’t be here today.” He pointed towards the line of shimmering hills to the east of the village. “It happened over that ridge. Carried me on his back for six miles, medic just saved me in time. So mate, a share of my wages each year is hardly a sum to die for. What do you think?”

I let out a long whistle which immediately triggered a choral response from the crowd. The note surged towards a climax, then followed a series of sharp metallic clicks from the trio at the rear. A few heads turned. The whistling quickly died. I looked over my shoulder towards the percussion section and was greeted with three raised rifles, their barrels aimed towards us. Keep it simple, I told myself.

I steadied my voice, hoping the crowd would suppress theirs.

So,” I continued, “I guess thanks to Buti’s generosity, this is the only place around here which has a regular supply of water through the dry season?”

Jake seemed unmoved. He raised his hand and held it at striking distance above his thigh.

I held my breath and dared not look over my shoulder.

Yeah. And thanks to Buti’s generosity, a regular supply of bloody mosquitoes!” Jake’s hand came down with a resounding slap.

He missed!

The crowd was silent.

The rebels had gone.

 

copyright©James Sillwood 2014


© Copyright 2018 JamesSillwood. All rights reserved.

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