Public Key (Lxxxii)

Two days later and Oakley showed up with a rucksack full of tasty goodies. I had to convince him to take half the vegetables or they’d just go bad on me. He wouldn’t take a dime for it. I had to force myself to remember that such largesse as he was displaying cost the equivalent of a Happy Meal back in the States.

He also brought me two spiral-bound notebooks and a few pens. I sat down and wrote my note to Arabang. First I had to spend twenty minutes practicing my penmanship. I hadn’t written a letter by hand since high school, and then only because I was trying to impress a girl who liked going to renaissance fairs. And wearing corsets.

I wrote her the truth. Most of it, anyway. I said that I needed to disappear in a hurry. I said that I missed her already. I said that I’d try to write more if I could, but that one way or another I’d see her again. Then I scribbled out a list of my hundred favorite English curses, with translations. So at least I knew that somewhere out there was one girl who’d think I was alright.

Other than that, my life changed very little. Oakley was right on that count. The days were getting shorter, the nights were getting colder, the rains had all but stopped, but all that stopped at my door. It took me a little longer to get out of bed in the morning, I went back to wearing my college hoodie when I wasn’t by the fire. Otherwise I did what I always did, then at the end of the day curled up with Oakley’s e-reader and a nice thick digital book.

I hadn’t felt comfortable downloading new media in a while now. I’d read most all the lighter books on my hard drive, all the novels, the graphic novels, the works of popular history and commercial science. I was down to the more imposing titles, the Goethes and Godwins and Gibbons. Part of me wanted to roll my eyes at the dustiness of it all and part of me wanted to cower at their immensity. Mostly I was glad I’d been backed into a corner, where I really had nothing else to do.

I tried to do the same with music. I gave the Cello Suites, the Rach 3rd, the SYR albums the attention they deserved. Without a computer it wasn’t much of a life. With a computer it could be. So I determined to make it so.

It was maybe four days later that I heard the noise. I had no idea what it was except that it was new. It wasn’t loud in volume, it was just one of those noises that is innately loud. I jumped out of my hammock and was moving towards the door before I stopped myself, and realized that even the most innocuous form of curiosity could kill this cat with ease.

I stood there, my hand on the door, my heart beating, and then I placed it.

Rotors. On a plane.

I went to my window, peeked out through the curtains. The sky was pale blue. I didn’t seen anything. I went to the other window. Nothing. Wait. Yep, there it was. A prop plane, gliding lazily through the sky, and at a pretty low altitude too.

I got back in my hammock and forced myself to ignore it. For fifteen minutes the noise was there. Then it got softer until it had almost faded away. Then it got louder again, and then it went off into the distance.

There was a knock on my door right as twilight was fading into night. It was three short knocks, a pause, and two short knocks. Oakley hadn’t understood what the point of a secret knock was. I told him, you try having a heart attack every time you go to open your front door.

He stood in my doorway, and just stared. He looked more serious than I’d seen him in some time.

Airplane, I said.

He nodded.

You think-

Yes.

There’s no other-

It took off from the airport in Mokhotlong. Tiisetso says that it’s two guys in the airplane and another two on the ground. They’re staying in Kruger’s hotel. All I know is he says they look like cops from a hundred paces.

American cops, or-

Cops. I don’t know. Does it matter?

No. Not really, no. And you think they’re-

Yes, he said. I think they’re looking for you.

He reached into a bag I hadn’t even noticed he was carrying, pulled out two loaves of bread and a bunch of apples. Here, he said, it’s not much, but I don’t want you out there at that fire.

No fire? I asked. It didn’t compute. You might as well have said no floors, from now on it’s walking on the ceiling all the way.

You want to sit out by a fire for two hours with airplanes looking over your head? I’d just as soon see you only go out at night, even to the water-pump. I’d try to keep bathroom breaks to-

Okay, I said.

Okay.

No, I mean, stop talking. I need to process this.

It’s not as bad as all that, he said. I’ll bring you a camp stove. You can set it up in here. With the weather changing you won’t hardly notice it. A few cans of propane will last you a month easy.

How about a chamber pot? I asked.

Come on, mate.

I sat down on the floor. Jesus fucking Christ.

It’s not so bad, he said with forced cheer. This will probably go away in a week or so, Just get through this week, it’ll all go back to normal.

But-

No buts.

No, I said. Of course. Of course… everything. Thanks, Oakley.

No thanks either.

I just hope you’re enjoying yourself.

He grinned. Maybe a little.

You’ve lost your mind.

It’s international bullshit and it’s getting dumped on my best friend. What would you do?

What I’ve done.

Too right.

We spent a few minutes together, talking about nothing, which helped. Then he went back up the hill, and left me to my attic.

He came back later that night. I was already in my hammock, reading myself to sleep. I had to pull on pants before I could get the door. He came into my hut and closed the door behind him.

What is it? I asked, alarmed.

Nothing, he said.

It’s not nothing.

I’m freaked out because it happened to me. It won’t happen to you. You don’t have to freak.

I’m really comforted.

Pour me a drink?

I gave him two fingers of camp whiskey. He tossed it off like a tank commander.

Talk, I said.

Some guy, he said, and coughed.

Don’t die, I said. Talk.

Guy. Came up – fuck! – came to the lodge, about three hours ago. Asking for you.

My nerves froze. Asking-

Not for you. I mean. He just walked in. Introduced himself. Kinda apologetic. Asked me if I’d seen any Americans in the last few months. Asked to see my log-book. Showed me a few pictures. Asked if I’d seen any of them.

And?

Three of the pictures were you. I mean, one was you. One was you in sunglasses and a hat. One was you with a beard, but it didn’t look much like you look now. Three were just randoms. One of them I think was a guest a few months ago. I told him that. He didn’t seem surprised. Just nodded, like I’d passed a fucking test. God dammit!

Oakley was moving from scared to angry.

What was he like? I asked.

Fat. Bald. Big mustache. Just wearing a polo shirt and jeans but you could tell he was a fucking cop.

How was his English? I asked.

Oakley blinked. American, he said. And he was back to being scared.

Fuck it, so was I.

I tried to ignore it. Oakley, I said, just calm down. You don’t know my real name, right? I didn’t look like any of those pictures, right? So you didn’t lie. You’re fine. They could walk into this room right now and-

That’s not the fucking point! he said. They came here. They came to my fucking door. Just walked up like this is an apartment in New Farm.

I put two and two together.

You’re scared about your plants, I said.

He shook his head back and forth. No. I’m just, fuck, I came out here so I wouldn’t have to go through this shit. I came here to get away-

Oakley, I said softly, you’re scared about your plants.

He looked like he was going to bite my head off, then flopped back against the wall and slid down to join me on the floor.

I really, really hate cops, he said.

They’re just doing their job, I said.

I’m not to keen on their job either.

Yeah, well, no argument here.

We sat there for a while, listening to the wind as it blew through the night

I should go, he said at last.

Yeah.

Need to give the kids their NPK before bed.

Go, I said. Try not to talk to any CIA agents on the way home.

Dick.

Have a good night.

You too.

I locked the door behind him, then went back down onto the floor. It took me some time before I was able to get myself up into my hammock. Then it was all I could do to flip to a book I’d already read and try to calm myself down.

I read for some time. I felt myself sinking back into the hammock. The words were starting to flow over me. It was nearly midnight. I’d gotten through another day.

There was another knock on the door.

Again? was my first thought. What’s happened now? was my second. My third was, that’s not our knock. Then thoughts gave way to wide eyes, a pounding heart and shaking hands.

This was it, I suddenly knew. They were hear for me. This was it. This little door-knock, on this little door, and this little life was over.

Would I run? I wondered. Would I resist? Could I do any other? Or would I just stand there, and come-with-me-please, and know that everything I’d done, run from hid from tried to live beyond, everything amounted to not a thing at all.

This is it, I thought. This is really it. Today is the first day of the end of this life.

The knock came again. I had to open the door. I got down from my hammock, squared my shoulders, and prepared to look my failure in whatever eyes it had.

I opened the door.

Hey, said Hannah.

 

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~ by davekov on 11 March 2011.

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