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Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 9

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Richard watched as Kainene zipped up the lilac dress and turned to him. The hotel room was brightly lit, and he looked at her and at her reflection in the mirror behind her.

"Nke a ka mma," he said. It was prettier than the black dress on the bed, the one she had earlier picked out for her parents' party. She bowed mockingly and sat down to put on her shoes. She looked almost pretty with her smoothing powder and red lipstick and relaxed demeanor, not as knotted up as she had been lately, chasing a contract with Shell-BP. Before they left, Richard brushed aside some of her wig hair and kissed her forehead, to avoid spoiling her lipstick.

There were garish balloons in her parents' living room. The party was under way. Stewards in black and white walked around with trays and fawning smiles, their heads held inanely high. The champagne sparkled in tall glasses, the chandeliers' light reflected the glitter of jewelry on fat women's necks, and the High Life band in the corner played so loudly, so vigorously, that people clumped close together to hear one another.

"I see many Big Men of the new regime," Richard said.

"Daddy hasn't wasted any time in ingratiating himself," Kainene said in his ear. "He ran off until things calmed down, and now he's back to make new friends."

Richard scanned the rest of the room. Colonel Madu stood out right away, with his wide shoulders and wide face and wide features and head that was above everyone else's. He was talking to an Arab man in a tight dinner jacket. Kainene walked over to say hello to them and Richard went to look for a drink, to avoid talking to Madu just yet.

Kainene's mother came up and kissed his cheek; he knew she was drunk, or she would have greeted him with the usual frosty "How do you do?" Now, though, she told him he looked well and cornered him at an unfortunate end of the room, with the wall to his back and an intimidating piece of sculpture, something that looked like a snarling lion, to his side.

"Kainene tells me you are going home to London soon?" she asked. Her ebony complexion looked waxy with too much makeup. There was something nervous about her movements.

"Yes. I'll be away for about ten days."

"Just ten days?" She half smiled. Perhaps she had hoped he would be away for longer, so she could finally find a suitable partner for her daughter. "To visit your family?"

"My cousin Martin is getting married," Richard said.

"Oh, I see." The rows and rows of gold around her neck weighed her down and made her head look slumped, as if she was under great strain and, in trying so hard to hide it, made it all the more obvious. "Maybe we'll have a drink in London then. I'm telling my husband that we should take another small vacation. Not that anything will happen, but not everybody is happy with this unitary decree the government is talking about. It's just nicer to be away until things are settled. We may leave next week but we are not telling anybody, so keep it to yourself." She touched his sleeve playfully, and Richard saw a glimpse of Kainene in the curve of her lips. "We are not even telling our friends the Ajuahs. You know Chief Ajuah, who owns the bottling company? They are Igbo, but they are Western Igbo. I hear they are the ones who deny being Igbo. Who knows what they will say that we have done? Who knows? They will sell other Igbo people for a tarnished penny. A tarnished penny, I'm telling you. Do you want another drink? Wait here and I'll get another drink. Just wait here."

As soon as she lurched away, Richard went looking for Kainene. He found her on the balcony with Madu, standing and looking down at the swimming pool. The smell of roasting meat was thick in the air. He watched them for a while. Madu's head was slightly cocked to the side as Kainene spoke, her body looked frail next to his huge frame, and they seemed somehow to fit effortlessly. Both very dark, one tall and thin, the other taller and huge. Kainene turned and saw him.

"Richard," she said.

He joined them, shook hands with Madu. "How are you, Madu? A na-emekwa?" he asked, eager to speak first. "How is life in the North?"

"Nothing to complain about," Madu said in English.

"You didn't come with Adaobi?" He did wish the man would come out more often with his wife.

"No," Madu said, and sipped his drink; it was clear he had not wanted anybody to disturb their chat.

"I see my mother was entertaining you, how exciting," Kainene said. "Madu and I were stuck with Ahmed there for a while. He wants to buy Daddy's warehouse in Ikeja."

"Your father will not sell anything to him," Madu declared, as if it were his decision to make. "Those Syrians and Lebanese already own half of Lagos, and they are all bloody opportunists in this country."

"I would sell to him if he stopped smelling so awfully of garlic," Kainene said.

Madu laughed.

Kainene slipped her hand into Richard's. "I was just telling Madu that you think another coup is coming."

"There won't be another coup," Madu said.

"You would know, wouldn't you, Madu? Big Man colonel that you are now," Kainene teased.

Richard tightened his hold on her hand. "I went to Zaria last week, and it seemed that all everybody was saying was second coup, second coup. Even Radio Kaduna and the New Nigerian" he said in Igbo.

"What does the press know, really?" Madu replied in English. He always did that; since Richard's Igbo had become near-fluent, Madu insistently responded to it in English so that Richard felt forced to revert to English.

"The papers ran articles about jihad, and Radio Kaduna kept broadcasting the late Sardauna's speeches, and there was talk about how Igbo people were going to take over the civil service and-"

Madu cut him short. "There won't be a second coup. There's a little tension in the army, but there always is a little tension in the army. Did you have the goat meat? Isn't it wonderful?"

"Yes," Richard agreed, almost automatically, and then wished he hadn't. The air in Lagos was humid; standing next to Madu, it seemed suffocating. The man made him feel inconsequential.

The second coup happened a week later, and Richard's first reaction was to gloat. He was rereading Martin's letter in the orchard, sitting on the spot where Kainene often told him that a groove the exact size and shape of his buttocks had appeared.

Is "going native" still used? I always knew you would! Mother tells me you have given up on the tribal art book and are pleased with this one, a sort of fictionalized travelogue? And on European Evils in Africa! I'm quite keen to hear more about it when you are in London. Pity you gave up the old title: "The Basket of Hands." Were hands chopped off in Africa as well? I'd imagined it was only in India. I'm intrigued!

Richard imagined that smile Martin often had when they were schoolboys, during those years that Aunt Elizabeth had immersed them in activities with her manic determination that there be no sitting around: cricket tournaments, boxing lessons, tennis, piano lessons from a Frenchman with a lisp. Martin had thrived at them all, always with that superior smile of people who were born to belong and excel.

Richard reached out to pluck a wildflower that looked like a poppy He wondered what Martin's wedding would be like; Martin's fiancee was a fashion designer, of all things. If only Kainene could go with him; if only she didn't have to stay to sign the new contract. He wanted Aunt Elizabeth and Martin and Virginia to see her, but most of all he wanted them to see him, the man he had become after his years here: to see that he was browner and happier.

Ikejide came up to him. "Mr. Richard, sah! Madam say make you come. There is another coup," Ikejide said. He looked excited.

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