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Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 35

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"Why do you still have Biafran number plates? Are you supporters of the defeated rebels?" His voice was loud, contrived; it was as if he was acting and very aware of himself in the role of the bully. Behind him, one of his boys was shouting at the laboring men. A dead male body lay by the bush.

"We will change it when we get to Nsukka," Odenigbo said.

"Nsukka?" The officer straightened up and laughed. "Ah, Nsukka University. You are the ones who planned the rebellion with Ojukwu, you book people."

Odenigbo said nothing, looking straight ahead. The officer yanked his door open with a sudden movement. "Oya! Come out and carry some wood for us. Let's see how you can help a united Nigeria."

Odenigbo looked at him. "What is this for?"

"You are asking me? I said you should come on come out!"

A soldier stood behind the officer and cocked his gun.

"This is a joke," Odenigbo muttered. "O na-egwu egwu."

"Come out!" the officer said.

Olanna opened her door. "Come out, Odenigbo and Ugwu. Baby, sit in the car."

When Odenigbo climbed out, the officer slapped his face, so violently, so unexpectedly, that Odenigbo fell against the car. Baby was crying.

"You are not grateful that we didn't kill all of you? Come on carry those wood planks quickly, two at a time!"

"Let my wife stay with our daughter, please," Odenigbo said.

The sound of the second slap from the officer was not as loud as the first. Olanna did not look at Odenigbo; she carefully focused on one of the men carrying a pile of cement blocks, his thin naked back coated in sweat. Then she walked to the pile of wood planks and picked two up. At first she staggered under the weight-she had not expected that they would be so heavy-then she steadied herself and began to walk up to the house. She was sweating when she came down. She noticed the hard eyes of a soldier following her, burning through her clothes. On her second trip up, he had come closer to stand by the pile.

Olanna looked at him and then called, "Officer!"

The officer had just waved a car on. He turned. "What is it?"

"You had better tell your boy here that it will be better for him not to even think about touching me," Olanna said.

Ugwu was behind her, and she sensed his intake of breath, his panic at her boldness. But the officer was laughing; he looked both surprised and impressed. "Nobody will touch you," he said. "My boys are well trained. We are not like those dirty rebels you people called an army."

He stopped another car, a Peugeot 403. "Come out right now!"

The smallish man came out and stood by his car. The officer reached out and pulled his glasses from his face and flung them into the bush. "Ah, now you cannot see? But you could see enough to write propaganda for Ojukwu? Is that not what all of you civil servants did?"

The man squinted and rubbed his eyes.

"Lie down," the officer said. The man lay down on the coal tar. The officer took a long cane and began to flog the man across his back and buttocks, ta-wai, ta-wai, ta-wai, and the man cried out something Olanna did not understand.

"Say Thank you, sah!" the officer said.

The man said, "Thank you, sir!"

"Say it again!"

"Thank you, sir!"

The officer stopped and gestured to Odenigbo. "Oya, book people, go. Make sure you change those number plates."

They hurried silently to the car. Olanna's palms ached. As they drove away, the officer was still flogging the man.


Ugwu stooped down beside the wildly overgrown bush with the white flowers and stared at the pile of burned books. They had been heaped together before being set on fire, so he dug through with his hands, to see if the flames had missed any underneath. He extricated two whole books and wiped the covers on his shirt. On the half-burned ones, he still made out words and figures.

"Why did they have to burn them?" Olanna asked mildly. "Just think of the effort."

Master squatted beside him and began to search through the charred paper, muttering, "My research papers are all here, nekene nke, this is the one on my rank tests for signal detection…" After a while, he sat down on the bare earth, his legs stretched in front of him, and Ugwu wished he had not; there was something so undignified, so unmasterly about it. Olanna was holding Baby's hand and looking at the whistling pine and ixora and lilies, all shapeless and tangled. Odim Street itself was shapeless and tangled, with both sides knotted in thick bush. Even the Nigerian armored car, left abandoned at the end of the street, had grass growing from its tires.

Ugwu was first to go into the house. Olanna and Baby followed. Milky cobwebs hung in the living room. He looked up and saw a large black spider moving slowly in its web, as if uncaring of their presence and still secure that this was its home. The sofas and curtains and carpet and shelves were gone. The louvers, too, had been slipped off and the windows were gaping holes and the dry harmattan winds had blown in so much dust that the walls were now an even brown. Dust motes swam ghostlike in the empty room. In the kitchen, only the heavy wood mortar was left behind. In the corridor, Ugwu picked up a dust-coated bottle; when he raised it to his nose it still smelled of coconuts. Olanna's perfume.

Baby began to cry when they got to the bathroom. The piles of feces in the bathtub were dried, obscene stonelike lumps. Pages had been ripped out of Drum magazine and used as toilet paper, crusty stains smearing the print. They lay strewn on the floor. Olanna hushed her and Ugwu thought of her playing with her yellow plastic duck in that tub. He turned the tap, and it squeaked but did not run. The grass in the backyard grazed his shoulders, too tall to walk across, so he found a stick to beat his way through. The beehive on the cashew tree was gone. The door to the Boys' Quarters hung half open on crushed hinges and he pushed it back and remembered the shirt he had left hanging on a nail on the wall. He knew it would be gone, of course, and yet he looked at the wall for it. Anulika had admired that shirt. It thrilled and frightened him, the thought that he would see Anulika in a few hours, that he would finally go home. He would not allow himself to think of who was left and who was not. He picked up the things on the filthy floor, a rusting gun and a bloated half-eaten copy of the Socialist Review. He threw them back down and, in the reverberating echo, something, perhaps a mouse, dashed across.

He wanted to clean. He wanted to scrub furiously. He feared, though, that it would change nothing. Perhaps the house was stained to its very foundation and that smell of something long dead and dried would always cling to the rooms and the rustle of rats would always come from the ceiling. Master found a broom and swept the study himself and left the pile of lizard droppings and dust just outside the door. Ugwu looked inside the study and saw him sitting on the only chair left, with a broken-off leg, so that he propped it against the wall for balance, hunched over half-burned papers and files.

Ugwu poked at the feces in the bathroom with a stick, muttering curses to the vandals and all their offspring, and he had cleared the tub when Olanna asked him to leave the cleaning until he came back from seeing his family.

Ugwu stood still as Chioke, his father's second wife, threw sand at him. "Are you real, Ugwu?" she asked. "Are you real?"

She bent and grabbed handfuls of sand, throwing in rapid movements, and the sand fell on his shoulder, arms, belly. Finally, she stopped and hugged him. He had not disappeared; he was not a ghost. Other people came out to hug him, to rub his body in disbelief as though the sand-pouring had still not proved to them that he was not a ghost. Some of the women were crying. Ugwu examined the faces around him, all of them thinner, all with a deep exhaustion etched on their skin, even the children. But it was Anulika who looked most changed. Her face was covered in blackheads and pimples and she did not look him in the eyes as she said, in tears, "You did not die, you did not die." He was startled to discover that the sister he had remembered as beautiful was not at all. She was an ugly stranger who squinted with one eye.

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