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Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 29

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"How many die a day?" Olanna asked.

Kainene looked down at the baby. "His mother came from somewhere that fell very early. They had gone through about five refugee camps before they came here."

"How many die a day?" Olanna asked again. But Kainene did not respond. The baby finally let out a thin squall and Kainene forced the powdery tablet into the small open mouth. Olanna watched Father Marcel and another man carry the dead woman, by her ankles and wrists, out of the classroom and to the back of the building.

"Sometimes I hate them," Kainene said.

"The vandals."

"No, them." Kainene pointed back at the room. "I hate them for dying."

Kainene took the baby inside and gave it to another woman, a relative of the dead woman's whose bony body was quivering; because her eyes were dry, it took Olanna a moment to realize that she was crying, the baby pressed against her flattened, dry breasts.

Later, as they walked to the car, Kainene slipped her hand into Olanna's.


Ugwu knew the story from Pastor Ambrose was implausible, that some people from a foundation abroad had set up a table at the end of St. John's Road and were giving away boiled eggs and bottles of refrigerated water to anyone who passed by. He knew, too, that he should not leave the compound; Olanna's warnings echoed in his head. But he was bored. It was sticky hot and he hated the ashy taste of the water stored in a clay pot behind the house. He longed for water, for anything, cooled by electricity. And the story could well be true; anything was possible. Baby was playing with Adanna and he could take the shortcut and be back before she even noticed he was gone.

He had just rounded the corner past the Church of St. John when he saw, farther down the road, a group of men standing in a single line with their hands placed on their heads. The two soldiers with them were very tall and one held his gun pointed forward. Ugwu stopped. The soldier with the gun began to shout something and to run toward him. Ugwu's heart jumped in his chest; he looked at the bush by the roadside but it was too thin to hide in. He looked back and the road was clear and unending; there was nothing to shield him from the soldier's bullet. He turned and dashed into the church compound. An elderly priest wearing white was standing at the top of the stairs by the main door. Ugwu bounded up, relieved, because the soldier would not come inside the church to take him. Ugwu tugged at the door but it was locked.

"Biko, Father, let me go inside," he said.

The priest shook his head. "Those outside who are being conscripted, they are God's children too."

"Please, please." Ugwu yanked at the door.

"God's blessings will go with you," the priest said.

"Open this door!" Ugwu shouted.

The priest shook his head and backed away.

The soldier ran into the church compound. "Stop or I shoot!"

Ugwu stood staring, his mind blank.

"You know what they call me?" the soldier shouted. "Kill And Go!" He was too tall for the tattered trousers that stopped long before his black boots started. He spat on the ground and pulled Ugwu's arm. "Bloody civilian! Follow me!"

Ugwu stumbled along. Behind them, the priest said, "God bless Biafra."

Ugwu did not look at the faces of the other men as he joined the line and raised his hands to his head. He was dreaming; he had to be dreaming. A dog was barking from somewhere close by. Kill And Go shouted at one of the men, cocked his gun, and shot into the air. Some women had gathered a little way away and one of them was speaking to Kill And Go's partner. At first, she spoke in low, pleading tones, then she raised her voice and gesticulated wildly. "Can't you see he cannot talk well? He is an imbecile! How will he carry a gun?"

Kill And Go tied the men up in pairs, their hands behind their back and the rope stretched taut between them. The man Ugwu was tied to jerked at the rope as if to see how strong it was and Ugwu was almost thrown off balance.


The voice had come from the group of women. He turned. Mrs. Muokelu was looking at him with shocked eyes. He nodded at her, in a way that he hoped was respectful, because he could not take the risk of talking. She began to half walk, half run down the road and he watched her go, disappointed and yet not sure what he had expected her to do.

"Get ready to move!" Kill And Go shouted. He looked up and saw a boy at the end of the road and ran off after him. His partner pointed a gun at the line. "Anybody run I shoot."

Kill And Go came back with the boy walking ahead of him.

"Shut up!" he said, as he tied the boy's hands behind his back. "Everybody move! Our van is on the next road!"

They had just begun to walk at an awkward pace, Kill And Go shouting, "Lep! Ail" when Ugwu saw Olanna. She was hurrying, panicky, wearing her wig, which she hardly wore these days, and she had hastily put it on because it was lopsided on her head. She smiled and motioned to Kill And Go, and he shouted, "Stop!" before he went over to her. They talked with his back to the men and, moments later, he turned around and slashed at the rope that bound Ugwu's hands.

"He is already serving our nation. We are only interested in idle civilians," he called out to the other soldier, who nodded.

Ugwu's relief made him dizzy He rubbed his wrists. Olanna did not say a word to him as they walked home, and he sensed her silent fury only in the force with which she unlocked and threw open the door.

"I'm sorry, mah," he said.

"You are so stupid you do not deserve the luck you had today," she said. "I bribed that soldier with all the money I have. Now you will produce what I will feed my child, do you understand?"

"I'm sorry, mah," he said again.

She said little to him in the following days. She made Baby's pap herself as if she no longer trusted him. Her responses to his greetings were frosty nods. And he woke up earlier to fetch water and scrubbed the room floor harder and waited to win back her friendship.

Finally, he won it back with the help of roasted lizards. It was the morning that she and Baby were getting ready to go to Orlu to visit Kainene. A hawker walked into the compound with an enamel tray covered in newspapers, holding up a browned lizard on a stick, chanting, "Mme mme suyal Mme mme suya!"

"I want some, Mummy Ola, please," Baby said.

Olanna ignored her and continued to brush her hair. Pastor Ambrose had come out of his room and was bargaining with the lizard hawker.

"I want some, Mummy Ola," Baby said.

"Those things are not good for you," Olanna said.

Pastor Ambrose went back to his room with a newspaper-wrapped package.

"Pastor bought some," Baby said.

"But we are not buying any."

Baby began to cry. Olanna turned and looked at Ugwu in exasperation and suddenly they were both smiling at the situation: Baby was crying to be allowed to eat a lizard.

"What do lizards eat, Baby?" Ugwu asked.

Baby mumbled, "Ants."

"If you eat one, all the ants the lizard ate will crawl around inside your stomach and bite you," Ugwu said calmly.

Baby blinked. She looked at him for a while, as if deciding whether or not to believe him, before she wiped her tears.

On the day that Olanna and Baby left to spend a week with Kainene in Orlu, Master came home from work earlier than usual and did not go to Tanzania Bar; Ugwu hoped that their absence had pulled him out of the ditch he sunk into when his mother died. He sat on the veranda listening to the radio. Ugwu was surprised to see Alice stop by on her way to the bathroom. He assumed Master would give her his distant yes-and-no answers and she would go back to her piano. But they spoke in low tones, most of which Ugwu did not hear; once in a while he heard her giggly laughter. The next day, she was sitting on the bench beside Master. Then she stayed until the whole yard was asleep. Then Ugwu came around from the backyard, days later, and found the veranda empty and the room door firmly shut. His stomach tightened; memories of those days of Amala left a difficult-to-swallow lump in his throat. Alice was different. There was a deliberate childlike aura to her that Ugwu distrusted. He could see why she would not need any medicine from a dibia to tempt Master; she would do it with that pale skin and helpless manner. Ugwu walked to the banana trees and back and then went to the door and knocked loudly He was determined to stop them, to stop it. He heard sounds inside. He knocked again. And again.

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