Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 30
"It is only the first page of your book." High-Tech smiled and offered Ugwu the joint.
Ugwu did not take it. "You tore my book?"
"It is only the first page. My paper finished."
Rage pumped through Ugwu. His slap was swift, powerful, furious, but High-Tech avoided the full impact because he moved back at the last second and Ugwu's hand only scraped his cheek. Ugwu raised his hand again but the other soldiers held him, dragged him away, said it was just a book after all, told him to drink some more gin.
"Sorry," High-Tech mumbled.
Ugwu's head ached. Everything was moving so fast. He was not living his life; life was living him. He drank steadily and watched the others, their mouths opening and closing, rancid jibes and conceited boasts and magnified memories coming out of them. Soon the bar itself, the benches placed around a table, became a sour-scented blur. The bar girl changed the bottles one after the other; Ugwu thought the gin was probably brewed in their backyard down the road. He got up to urinate outside and, afterward, leaned against a tree and breathed in the fresh air. It was like sitting in the backyard in Nsukka, looking at the lemon tree and his herb garden and Jomo's manicured plants. He stayed there for a while until he heard loud shouts from the bar. Perhaps somebody had won some bet or other. They tired him. The war tired him. When he finally went back inside, he stopped at the door. The bar girl was lying on her back on the floor, her wrapper bunched up at her waist, her shoulders held down by a soldier, her legs wide, wide ajar. She was sobbing, "Please, please, biko." Her blouse was still on. Between her legs, High-Tech was moving. His thrusts were jerky, his small buttocks darker-colored than his legs. The soldiers were cheering.
"High-Tech, enough! Discharge and retire!"
High-Tech groaned before he collapsed on top of her. A soldier pulled him off and was fumbling at his own trousers when somebody said, "No! Target Destroyer is next!"
Ugwu backed away from the door.
" Ujo abiala o! Target Destroyer is afraid!"
Ugwu shrugged and moved forward. "Who is afraid?" he said disdainfully. "I just like to eat before others, that is all."
"The food is still fresh!"
"Target Destroyer, aren't you a man? I bukwa nwoke?"
On the floor, the girl was still. Ugwu pulled his trousers down, surprised at the swiftness of his erection. She was dry and tense when he entered her. He did not look at her face, or at the man pinning her down, or at anything at all as he moved quickly and felt his own climax, the rush of fluids to the tips of himself: a self-loathing release. He zipped up his trousers while some soldiers clapped. Finally he looked at the girl. She stared back at him with a calm hate.
There were more operations. Ugwu's fear sometimes overwhelmed him, froze him. He unwrapped his mind from his body, separated the two, while he lay in the trench, pressing himself into the mud, luxuriating in how close and connected he was to the mud. The ka-ka-ka of shooting, the cries of men, the smell of death, the blasts of explosions above and around him were distant. But back at the camp his memory became clear; he remembered the man who placed both hands on his blown-open belly as though to hold his intestines in, the one who mumbled something about his son before he stiffened. And, after each operation, everything became new. Ugwu looked at his daily wrap of garri in wonder. He read pages of his book over and over. He touched his own skin and thought of its decay.
One afternoon, the commander's jeep drove in with a sickly goat lying on its side, legs tied together. It had been commandeered from an idle civilian. It bleated meekly and the soldiers gathered, excited at the thought of meat. Two of them killed it and made a fire and when the large-cut chunks had been cooked, the commander asked that all of it be brought to his quarters. He spent long minutes checking through the basin to make sure the goat was complete: the legs, the head, the balls. Later, two village women came and were taken in to the commander's quarters; much later, the soldiers threw stones at them as they left. Ugwu dreamed that the commander had given half of the goat to the soldiers and that they had chewed everything and swallowed the bones.
When he woke up, a radio was turned on high and High-Tech was sobbing. Umuahia had fallen. Biafra 's capital was lost. A soldier threw his hands up and said, "That goat, that goat was a bad omen! All is lost! We have to surrender!" The other soldiers were subdued. Even the commander's saying that he was aware of a secret counterattack plan to recover Umuahia did not lift their spirits. But the announcement that His Excellency would be visiting did. The soldiers swept the compound, washed their clothes, lined themselves on benches to welcome him. When the convoy of jeeps and Pontiacs drove into the compound, they all stood up and saluted.
Ugwu's salute was slack, because he was worried about Olanna and Master and Baby in Umuahia, because he was not interested in His Excellency, because he did not care for the commander. He did not care for any of the officers, with their superior sneers and the way they treated their soldiers like sheep. But there was a captain he admired, a solitary and disciplined man called Ohaeto. And so the day that Ugwu found himself in the trench next to Captain Ohaeto, he was determined to impress him. The trench was not wet; there were more ants than spiders. Ugwu could tell that the vandals were closer, from the clatter of gunfire and the boom of mortars. But there was not enough light to see for certain. He really wanted to impress Captain Ohaeto; if only the light were not so poor. He was about to connect the cable and plug when something whistled past his ear and then, right afterward, a stinging pain burned into his back. Beside him, Captain Ohaeto was a bloodied, mangled mass. Then Ugwu felt himself lifted up above the trench, helplessly, haplessly. And when he landed, it was the force of his own weight, rather than the pain firing up his whole body that stunned him into silence.
Richard shifted as far away as he could from the two American journalists in the car, pressing himself against the door of the Peugeot. He really should have sat in front and asked the orderly to sit in back with them. But he had not imagined that they would smell so bad, Charles the plump one wearing a squashed hat and Charles the redhead with his chin covered in ginger hair.
"One Midwestern and one New York journalist coming to Biafra, and we're both named Charles. What were the odds?" the plump one said, laughing, after they introduced themselves. "And both our moms call us Chuck!"
Richard was not sure how long they had waited before boarding their flight at Lisbon, but the wait at Sao Tome for a relief flight to Biafra had stretched to seventeen hours. They needed a bath. When the plump one, sitting next to Richard, began to talk about his first visit to Biafra at the beginning of the war, Richard thought he needed mouthwash, too.
"I came in a real plane and we landed at Port Harcourt airport," he said. "But this time I was sitting on the floor of a plane flying with no lights, alongside twenty tons of dried milk. We flew so fucking low, I looked out and could see the orange bursts of the Nigerian antiaircraft. I was scared shitless." He laughed, his fat-padded face broad and pleasant.
The redhead did not laugh. "We don't know for sure that it was Nigerian fire. The Biafrans could have put it on."
"Oh, come on!" The plump one glanced at Richard, but Richard kept his face straight. "Of course it was Nigerian fire."
"The Biafrans are mixing up food and guns in their planes, anyway," the redhead said. He turned to Richard. "Aren't they?"