Public Key (Lxviii)

I lost myself in my work for four days together. On the morning of the fifth day I realized I still had my freedom; self-inflicting a sentence of hard labor wasn’t necessary to keep it. I forced myself to relax, to sit down and pull myself together. At least I had a very nice bench to sit on.

I checked the papers. There were sightings of me being reported all over the world as people everywhere wanted to make that million. Good luck to whoever had to sift through all that noise. I guess that’s the breaks in the bounty-making business.

Sure there were some sightings of me in southern Africa. In Richard’s Bay, I saw, even in Durban. But also in Cape Town, Joburg, Gabarone, Walvis Bay, Mbabane, Harare, Impalila. To say nothing of cities in Europe, in Asia, in America. There were even reports that I was still in Montreal. Just waiting for another child to, &c.

I felt like a two-line message sandwiched between a hundred lines of gibberish – and all of it encrypted. I could have had a thousand men stand up beside me and I-Am-Spartacus and it wouldn’t have done as much to aid my anonymity.

The newspapers were calling for my blood. The politicians were calling for my blood. The people were calling for the blood of the politicians who hadn’t been able to get mine. This only made the politicians howl louder. What else could they do?

In Quebec, in Canada, even in America, a veritable industry had grown up. Its only product was a misdirected hatred of me. Every day more and more people found themselves employed in it. If they didn’t deliver the product, all that stirred-up hate would snap right back to them. They had to rail against me, or they would fall.

I took a deep breath, had a cup of tea, picked up a square of sandpaper and began to put finish on another night-table.

I was proud of this one. It was high but sturdy, with a round top and square legs, and even some simple adornment here and there. I still didn’t really know what I was doing. But I was doing it, that couldn’t be denied. I was even getting a little better. Enough that I thought of keeping this table for myself.

I’d been living there for months. About time I started to make this hut a home.

I went with Oakley to the weekly market in Mokhotlong. It felt very strange to be showing my million-dollar face in public. But it wasn’t really that face I was showing, and our little market wasn’t very public. The strange feeling remained, but I knew it would never really go away. More than that, I knew I didn’t want it to.

I swallowed a deep breath and tried to enjoy myself.

There were pears in season. Apricots, too. I bought a big sack of millet and a small sack of teff flour. Two guys from a village up in the hills were selling gallon carboys of beer, ten maloti plus a deposit of twenty on the jar. Oakley told me that they likely would wait a year before coming back to the market to let you get your deposit back. I thanked him, and decided to admire such creative capitalism from a distance.

I did see one thing I very much wanted to purchase. I just wasn’t sure if I ought to. It was a knife, and it was beautiful. I wanted to have it. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to want it.

I decided that there were many circumstances where I would like to have a knife, and very few where I’d regret it. The only time where I wouldn’t want it would be if they were coming for me, if they had found me. At that point I didn’t want to have a weapon on me. Just having it on me could make me appear dangerous – not just then, to my abductors, but also later, in the court of public opinion.

But there was more to it than that. If I had a knife on me, and they were coming for me, I might want to draw it. Or I might draw it, might try to defend myself, before I’d even realized what I’d done.

I’m not a violent man. I have no experience with it. Not with fighting, not with any kind of urgent means. The best I’d done is thrown one strung-out high-schooler into a wall. And clearly I could have done that better.

I just really didn’t want to fuck up.

Then again… just look at it. The knife was handmade by a blacksmith in Ha Moramang, a village nestled in a valley between towering snow-capped mountains. It was seven inches of blade, sharp all along one side and halfway up the other. It had a razor’s edge and a thick center and the steel was polished until it looked soft as butter. The handle was a dark bone banded in three places in hammered copper. It slipped into an oiled leather sheath. It was made with care and love and skill and was made to be respected, and more than anything it was made to be used and used well. It was beautiful.

I had a hundred uses for it. To carve wood. To chop vegetables. To cut branches. To cut my hair. Moreover, I wanted it to defend myself. Because there were things in the world against a man, any man, needed to defend himself. There were those who might come for me with whom I’d ought to go quietly. But there were others who might come for me, just as a man out walking alone. Against them I would want to defend myself. Against them, anyone ought to be able to defend.

I guessed I’d just have to trust myself to act as the situation demanded. I’d just have to trust myself, keep my head, and do right.

I asked Oakley for two hundred maloti in loan. He gave me rands; it was all the same. I promised I’d pay him back when we returned.

He walked up behind me. A knife? he asked.

It’s cool, I said, I already did this with myself.

Okay…

You want me to use your hacksaw to cut my onions?

For ten maloti I had a young woman sew two little strips of leather to the inside of my cloak. Then it was just a matter of tying them to the sheath, and not only way the knife a part of my clothes, it was all but undetectable. I could barely tell it was there. But the weight of it, the knowledge of it, never really went away.

We detoured on the way back to pick up some more wood. Oakley had to settle his account with Tiisetso. Not, I guessed, just for the cost of wood. While I was there I picked up a few things, added them to the bushcamp tab. I had one idea…

We made our way back to the bushcamp and Oakley drove me down to my hut. I went inside and grabbed the money I owed him. I was almost out of rands. I asked Oakley if he was planning on hitting Maseru any time soon. Maybe if I batted my eyelashes at him he would exchange some of my US currency for me? Pretty please?

No, he said.

Um. Oh. Yeah, sure, no problem. I just thought-

Those bills have serial numbers on them.

I blinked. Fuck.

Yeah. Fuck.

I didn’t even think-

Maybe they didn’t record the serial numbers of the rands they gave you. Or maybe you’ve just been paying it out into the local cash pool so none of the bills has had a chance hit a scanner. But you got those bills from a bank. I bet they’re sequentially numbered and everything.

I ran inside, pulled out my billfold and looked at my USD. Yep. Crisp, fresh bills, organized by denomination, a running straight by serial number. Same with my pounds. Same with my euros.

I went outside.

Fuck?

Yeah, I said. Fuck.

So – No, I won’t hand them over to a forex trader at an international airport. And I’d recommend you don’t have anyone else try it either. But that would make me an accomp-

I get it, I said. I’m sorry.

It’s alright, mate.

Fuck, I said. I’m running low on rands. I was counting on that… fuck!

I can sell you rands, he said.

I looked up at him. What?

Sure. I’ve got plenty of rands. Mostly fifties, hundreds, dirty, wrapped in rubber bands. More of them than I know what to do with.

Oh.

Yeah.

So.

Yeah.

And having some American currency, for you, in the long run-

Yeah.

Can you cash me out for a hundred bucks?

Sure, he said.

Great. Um. Thanks.

Like you don’t have enough trouble.

I rolled my eyes. It would be nice to be able to spend my own money.

How much do you have?

A few grand. All told.

Huh.

What?

I mean, I don’t think most international fugitives travel so cheap. They’ve got escape routes and bugout bags full of cash. And they’ve also got associates. Networks. Accomplices in six countries.

Do you?

H blinked. I mean. Kind of. Yeah.

Lucky.

All I’m saying is, I think it’s pretty cool what you’ve done. That you’re still, y’know…

Free?

Yeah.

Thanks, mate, I said.

Now how about build me a gazebo.

Yes, boss.

 

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~ by davekov on 2 March 2011.

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