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Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 33

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When they listened to Radio Biafra, Ugwu would get up and walk away. The shabby theatrics of the war reports, the voice that forced morsels of invented hope down people's throats, did not interest him. One afternoon, Harrison came up to the flame tree carrying the radio turned up high to Radio Biafra.

"Please turn that thing off," Ugwu said. He was watching some little boys playing on the nearby patch of grass. "I want to hear the birds."

"There are no birds singing," Harrison said.

"Turn it off."

"His Excellency is about to give a speech."

"Turn it off or carry it away."

"You don't want to hear His Excellency?"

"Mba, No."

Harrison was watching him. "It will be a great speech."

"There is no such thing as greatness," Ugwu said.

Harrison walked away looking wounded and Ugwu did not bother to call him; he went back to watching the children. They ran sluggishly on the parched grass, holding sticks as guns, making shooting sounds with their mouths, raising clouds of dust as they chased one another. Even the dust seemed listless. They were playing War. Four boys. Yesterday, they had been five. Ugwu did not remember the fifth child's name-was it Chidiebele or Chidiebube?-but he remembered how the child's belly had lately started to look as if he had swallowed a fat ball, how his hair had fallen off in tufts, how his skin had lightened, from the color of mahogany to a sickly yellow. The other children had teased him often. Afo mrnili ukwa, they called him: Breadfruit Belly. Once, Ugwu wanted to ask them to stop, so he could explain what kwashiorkor was-perhaps he could read out to them how he described kwashiorkor on his writing sheet. But he decided not to. There was no need to prepare them for what he was sure they would all get anyway. Ugwu did not remember the child's ever playing a Biafran officer, like His Excellency or Achuzie; he always played a Nigerian, either Gowon or Adekunle, which meant he was always defeated and had to fall down at the end and act dead. Sometimes, Ugwu wondered if the child had liked it because it gave him a chance to rest, lying down on the grass.

The child and his family had come from Oguta, one of those families who did not believe their town would fall, and so his mother looked defiant when they first arrived, as if she dared anybody to tell her she was not dreaming and would not be waking up soon. The evening they arrived, the sound of the antiaircraft guns cut through the refugee camp just before dusk. The mother ran out and held him, her only child, in a confused hug. The other women shook her roughly, as the wa-wa-wa roar of the overhead planes came closer. Come to the bunker! Are you mad? Come to the bunker!

The woman refused and stood there holding her son, shaking. Ugwu still did not know why he had done what he did. Perhaps it was because Olanna had already grabbed Baby and run ahead of him and his hands were free. But he reached out and pulled the child from the woman's embrace and ran. The child was still heavy then, still weighed something; his mother had no choice but to follow. The planes were strafing and, just before Ugwu shoved the child down the bunker, a bullet flew closely past; he smelled rather than saw it, the acridness of hot metal.

It was in the bunker, while playing with the damp soil that crawled with crickets and ants, that the child had told Ugwu his name. Chidiebele or Chidiebube, he was not sure. But it was Chidi-something. Perhaps Chidiebele, the more common name. The name almost sounded like a joke now. Chidiebele: God is merciful.

Later, the four boys had stopped playing War and had gone inside when Ugwu heard the thin, strangled wail from the classroom at the end of the building. He knew that that child's aunt would come out soon and bravely tell the people nearby, that the mother would throw herself in the dirt and roll and shout until she lost her voice, and then she would take a razor and leave her scalp bare and bleeding.

He put on his singlet and went out to offer to help dig the small grave.


Richard sat next to Kainene and rubbed her shoulder as she laughed at something Olanna was saying. He loved the way her neck looked longer when she threw back her head and laughed. He loved the evenings spent with her and Olanna and Odenigbo; they reminded him of Odenigbo's dimly lit living room in Nsukka, of tasting beer on his pepper-drenched tongue. Kainene reached out for the enamel plate of roasted crickets, Harrison 's new specialty; he seemed to know just where to dig for them in the dry earth and how to break them up into bits after roasting, so that they lasted a bit longer. Kainene placed a piece in her mouth. Richard took two pieces and crunched slowly. It was getting dark, and the cashew trees had become silent gray silhouettes. A dust haze hung above them all.

"What do you think accounts for the success of the white man's mission in Africa, Richard?" Odenigbo asked.

"The success?" Odenigbo unnerved him, the way he would brood for long moments and then abruptly ask or say something unexpected.

"Yes, the success. I think in English," Odenigbo said.

"Perhaps you should first account for the failure of the black man to curb the white man's mission," Kainene said.

"Who brought racism into the world?" Odenigbo asked.

"I don't see your point," Kainene said.

"The white man brought racism into the world. He used it as a basis of conquest. It is always easier to conquer a more humane people."

"So when we conquer the Nigerians we will be the less humane?" Kainene asked.

Odenigbo said nothing. Something rustled near the cashew trees, and Harrison leaped up and ran over to see if it was a bush rat he could catch.

"Inatimi has given me some Nigerian coins," Kainene said finally. "You know these Biafran Organization of Freedom Fighters people have quite a bit of Nigerian money. I want to go to Ninth Mile and see what I can buy, and if that goes well, I will sell some of the things our people at the camp have made."

"That's trading with the enemy," Odenigbo said.

"It's trading with illiterate Nigerian women who have what we need."

"It's dangerous, Kainene," Odenigbo said; the softness in his voice surprised Richard.

"That sector is free," Olanna said. "Our people are trading freely there."

"Are you going too?" Surprise lifted Odenigbo's voice as he stared at Olanna.

"No. At least not tomorrow. Maybe the next time Kainene goes."

"Tomorrow?" It was Richard's turn to be surprised. Kainene had mentioned it once, wanting to trade across enemy lines, but he did not know she had already decided when to go.

"Yes, Kainene is going tomorrow," Olanna said.

"Yes," Kainene said. "But don't mind Olanna, she will never come with me. She's always been terribly frightened of honest free enterprise." Kainene laughed and Olanna laughed and slapped her arm; Richard saw the similarity in the curve of their lips, in the shape of their slightly larger front teeth.

"Hasn't Ninth Mile Road been occupied on and off?" Odenigbo asked. "I don't think you should go."

"It's all decided. I leave with Inatimi early tomorrow morning, and we'll be back by evening," Kainene said, with that finality to her tone that Richard knew well. He was not opposed to the trip, though; he knew many people who did what she wanted to do.

That night, he dreamed that she came back with a basket full of chicken boiled in herbs, spicy jollof rice, soup thick with fish, and he felt irritable when he was jerked awake by raised voices just outside their window. He was reluctant to leave the dream. Kainene had woken up too and they hurried outside, Kainene with a wrapper tied around her chest and he in his shorts. It was only just dawn. The light was weak. A small crowd from the refugee camp was beating and kicking a young man crouched on the ground, his hands placed on his head to shield some of the blows. His trousers were splattered with holes and his collar was almost ripped off but the half of a yellow sun still clung to his torn sleeve.

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