Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 31
"It's ridiculous that they still follow protocol in this shithole," the redhead said. "They stamped my passport when I got here and asked if I had anything to declare."
A loud explosion shattered the air. The airport manager shouted, "This way!" and they ran after him to the uncompleted building. They lay flat on the ground. The window louvers rattled and clattered. The ground quivered. The explosions stopped and scattered gunfire followed, and the airport manager stood up and brushed his clothes down. "No more problems. Let's go."
'Are you crazy?" the redhead screamed.
"They start shooting only when the bombs run out, nothing to worry about now," the airport manager said airily, already on his way out.
On the tarmac, a lorry was repairing the bomb craters, filling them in with gravel. The runway lights blinked on and off and the darkness was complete again, absolute; in the blue-blackness Richard felt his head swimming. The lights came on for a little longer and then off. On again and then off. A plane was descending; there was the bumpy trailing sound on the tarmac.
"It's landed?" the plump one asked.
"Yes," Richard said.
The lights blinked on and off. Three planes had landed and it amazed Richard how quickly some lorries, without headlights, had already driven up to them. Men were hauling sacks from the planes. The lights went on and off. Pilots were screaming. "Hurry up, you lazy boys! Get them off! We're not going to be bombed here! Get a move on, boys! Hurry up, damn it!" There was an American accent, an Afrikaans accent, an Irish accent.
"The bastards could be a little more gracious," the plump one said. "They're fucking paid thousands of dollars to fly the relief in."
"Their lives are at risk," the redhead said.
"So are the lives of the men who are fucking unloading the planes."
Somebody lit a hurricane lamp and Richard wondered if the Nigerian bomber hovering above could see it, wondered how many Nigerian bombers were hovering above.
"Some of our men have walked into the propellers in the dark," Richard said calmly. He was not sure why he had said that, perhaps to shock the redhead out of his complacent superiority.
"And what happened to them?" the plump one asked.
"What do you think happened to them?"
A car was driving in toward them, slowly, with no headlights. It parked close by, doors opened and shut, and soon five emaciated children and a nun in a blue-and-white habit joined them. Richard greeted her. "Good evening. Kee kalme?"
She smiled. "Oh, you are the onye ocha who speaks Igbo. You are the one who is writing wonderful things about our cause. Well done."
Are you going to Gabon?"
"Yes." She asked the children to sit on the wood slabs. Richard went closer to look at them. In the dim light, the milky foam of mucus in their eyes was thick. The nun cradled the smallest, a shriveled doll with stick legs and a pregnant belly. Richard could not tell if the child was a boy or a girl and suddenly that made him angry, so angry that when the redhead asked, "How do we know when to get on the plane?" Richard ignored him.
One of the children made to get up. She toppled over and fell and lay face down and unmoving. The nun placed the smallest down on the ground and picked up the fallen child. "Sit here. If you go anywhere I will smack you," she said to the others before she hurried away.
The plump man asked. "The kid fell asleep or what?"
Richard ignored him too.
Finally, the plump man muttered, "Fucking American policy."
"Nothing wrong with our policy," the redhead said.
"Power comes with responsibility. Your government knows that people are dying!" Richard said, his voice rising.
"Of course my government knows people are dying," the redhead said. "People are dying in Sudan and Palestine and Vietnam. People are dying everywhere." He sat down on the floor. "They brought my kid brother's body back from Vietnam last month, for God's sake."
Neither Richard nor the plump one said anything. In the long silence that followed, even the pilots and the sounds of unloading dimmed. Later, after they had been driven hurriedly to the tarmac and dashed into the planes and the planes took off in the on-again, off-again lighting, the title of the book came to Richard: "The World Was Silent When We Died." He would write it after the war, a narrative of Biafra 's difficult victory, an indictment of the world. Back in Orlu, he told Kainene about the journalists and how he had felt both angry with and sorry for the redhead and how he had felt incredibly alone in their presence and how the book title had come to him.
She arched her eyebrows. "We? The world was silent when we died?"
"I'll make sure to note that the Nigerian bombs carefully avoided anybody with a British passport," he said.
Kainene laughed. She laughed often these days. She laughed as she told him about the motherless baby who still clung to life, about the young girl that Inatimi was falling in love with, about the women who sang in the evenings. She laughed, too, on the morning that he and Olanna finally saw each other. Olanna spoke first. "Hello, Richard," she said and he said, "Olanna, hello," and Kainene laughed and said, "Richard couldn't invent any more trips."
He watched Kainene's face carefully for withdrawal, for returning anger, for something. But there was nothing; her laughter softened the angles of her chin. And the tension he had expected, the weight of memory and regret that would come with seeing Olanna again in her presence, were absent.
For the epilogue, he writes a poem, modeled after one of Okeoma's poems. He calls it:
"WERE YOU SILENT WHEN WE DIED?"
Did you see photos in sixty-eight Of children with their hair becoming rust: Sickly patches nestled on those small heads, Then falling off like rotten leaves on dust?
Imagine children with arms like toothpicks. With footballs for bellies and skin stretched thin. It was kwashiorkor-difficult word, A word that was not quite ugly enough, a sin.
You needn't imagine. There were photos Displayed in gloss-filled pages of your Life. Did you see? Did you feel sorry briefly, Then turn round to hold your lover or wife?
Their skin had turned the tawny of weak tea And showed cobwebs of vein and brittle bone; Naked children laughing, as if the man Would not take photos and then leave, alone.
Olanna saw the four ragged soldiers carrying a corpse on their shoulders. Wild panic made her woozy. She stopped, certain it was Ugwu's body, until the soldiers walked quickly, silently, past and she realized that the dead man was too tall to be Ugwu. His feet were cracked and caked in dried mud; he had fought without shoes. Olanna stared at the soldiers' retreating backs and tried to calm her queasiness, to shrug off the foreboding that had fogged her mind for days.
Later, she told Kainene how afraid she was for Ugwu, how she felt as if she were about to turn a corner and be flattened by tragedy. Kainene placed an arm around her and told her not to worry. Madu had sent word to all battalion commanders to look for Ugwu; they would find out where he was. But when Baby asked, "Is Ugwu coming back today, Mummy Ola?" Olanna imagined it was because Baby, too, had the same premonition. When she returned to Umuahia and Mama Oji gave her a package somebody had delivered, she immediately wondered if it contained a message about Ugwu. Her hands shook as she held the brown-wrapped carton creased with excessive handling. Then she noticed Mohammed's writing, addressed to her in care of the University of Biafra, in long elegant sweeps. Inside, she unfolded handkerchiefs, crisp white underwear, bars of Lux soap, and chocolate, and she marveled that they had reached her intact, even sent through the Red Cross. His letter was three months old but still smelled faintly of sweet musk. Detached sentences stuck to her mind.