The Old Farmhouse
The Old Farmhouse

If He Should Lose His Own Soul
by Jan Luthman

A full-length book in sixteen weekly instalments for grown ups

Instalment 12

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Chapter thirty six

Tuehville had no food.

Every supermarket and general store had been ransacked and, on Monday, James drove over a hundred miles to outlying villages and scoured the shelves of their tiny stores. He was not the first, and managed only to glean a modest and motley collection of tinned foods.

"Hardly haute cuisine," He admitted to Julie, "But at least we won't starve."

The wholesale warehouses in the Freeport contained several weeks’ supplies of basic foodstuffs; all were unscathed. For a brief moment, the government considered appropriation. The moment lasted until someone pointed out that, if the goods were seized, wholesalers would not import fresh stocks. That way lay nationwide starvation.

The problem was credit.

Wholesale importers sell merchandise to stores on credit. The stores sell the merchandise for cash, keep part of the proceeds as profit, and repay the wholesalers with the balance. The cycle then repeats itself. It is simple, effective, and time-proven.

But, in Ngombia, the cycle had been broken.

The merchandise that should have been sold for cash had been stripped from every shelf of every store in Tuehville. With neither cash nor merchandise, the stores could not repay the wholesalers. To restock their shelves, and restart the cycle, the stores would need additional credit. Wholesalers and banks were unanimous and adamant in their refusal.

The storekeepers and supermarket owners then turned to the insurance companies, who promptly invoked their 'riots and civil commotion' clauses and denied all claims. Mass bankruptcies and massive shortages loomed.

The traders then took the only route open to them, and called at the offices of the Minister of Commerce. Years of past favours, they informed him, were about to be called in. Politely, but firmly, they made it clear that they expected the government to impress upon the insurance companies the obligation to settle all claims promptly, and in full. If this did not happen, the Minister was told, importers and traders would go out of business, and starving Ngombians would riot again; this time in earnest.

"These chaps really are not playing fair," Rupert Mainwaring drained an entire tumbler of whisky and lemonade in a single, mind-numbing draught, "I had four separate ministerial audiences this morning; Labour, Immigration, Commerce, and Finance." He leant back in his chair, head pressed against the cushion to comfort a threatening migraine. "And all of them said the same thing."

"Which was?" James had never seen Rupert like this; the bulldog jaw had sunk deep into dejected jowls and the normally immaculate hair looked like a wind-blown hayrick.

"Until we settle all the claims of every trader in full, travel bans apply to all insurance company heads, their expatriate staff, and their families."

"Stay or pay, eh?"

"Not cricket, is it?" Rupert massaged the back of his neck to ease the tightening muscles.

"What do you think you're likely to do?"

"Pay," Said Rupert.

Within ten days, that is what they did.

The following week, three of the five insurance companies in Tuehville closed their offices permanently. The remaining two trebled premiums and revoked the authority of local management to settle claims.

Faced with dramatically more expensive cover, or no cover at all, many traders quietly closed their doors; the rest just raised their prices.

The ramparts of poverty and deprivation that imprisoned the poor of Ngombia within their pit of squalor and hopelessness had been rebuilt; even higher than before. And within those ramparts, the frustration and the anger boiled ever more fiercely.

"We have the cheque for your car from our insurance company, Mr. Minister. Do you wish us to re-order the same model?"

Agamemnon Nautilus Nagbeh, Minister of State for Commerce, Industry and Transportation, wallowed behind his desk. In the years since James had first met him, power and the easy accumulation of wealth had encouraged the minister's overindulgence, and persuaded him to shake off the last of the few shreds of idealism that had once clung to the cloak of his ambition. Nagbeh was now, indisputably, what Julie would have scathingly referred to as a fat cat.

"No," He said, "A refund would be preferable."

A refund. The minister had never paid a cent; James didn't blink.

"Would you prefer that we arrange cash?"

"That would be appreciated."

Cash, anonymous cash, how very comforting it was. And it could be mailed ahead to wait for one's arrival, anywhere in the world. So much more useful than a new limousine.

Chapter thirty seven

Lucy gave James her best beseeching look.


Behind Lucy, peering cautiously around the corner of their bedroom door, Annie followed the progress of negotiations with saucer-eyed attention.

"Yes?" James eyed the chief negotiator cautiously.

"Could Fi Nyamplu stay the night with us?"

"We'd need a spare bed."

Lucy had already thought this one through.

"Fi's sister asked Annie to spend the night with her."

"At her home?"



"The same night; next Friday."

"Good Friday?"


"We're having a party that night."

"Fi won't mind; her parents are always having parties."

James surrendered.

"What time would you like her to come?" He asked.

Lucy's face lit up; glowing with delight, she bounced round the room like a light bulb on springs.

"Tea time," She squeaked.

The telephone rang.


"What's up Charles?"

"The ship with Nagbeh's signs docked last night; they’re offloading right now. We're on our way down there; you coming?"

"I'll see you there in twenty minutes; let’s hope he's happy with them."

Nagbeh was thrilled; like a child on Christmas morning, he could hardly wait whilst the crates were opened. Two labourers stood holding a particularly large section of road sign for his inspection, quaking under his scrutiny.

"Dammit, Nyamplu," The peculiarly English public school penchant for second name terms amongst Ngombia's social elite no longer struck James as odd, "That is beautiful."

And it was. The immaculate white lettering, set on a sheet of spring-fresh green, glittered in the sunlight, a dramatic contrast to the dreary greys and browns of Tuehville's shabby Freeport.

"Dammit!" Nagbeh swore again, "I like it; show me another."

Another sign, blue and white, was unearthed and held up for approval. Nagbeh grabbed Charles by the arm.

"Yeah," He breathed happily, "Yeah; let’s see some more."

Delighted with themselves, Nagbeh and Charles cavorted from crate to crate, a pair of overgrown schoolboys, pulling out sign after sign.

"I say, Nagbeh," Charles was having a field day, playing his hand for all that it was worth, "Just you wait until everyone sees these things alongside the roads. You're going to be the most visible minister anyone ever saw."

They stopped in front of the largest crate; it towered over them, still unopened.

"Nyamplu? What the hell's inside there, man?"

Charles had already checked his copy of the manifest.

"Your road-marking machine, minister."

Nagbeh's arm snaked out, stabbing straight at a group of instantly quailing stevedores.

"Open it."

Six terrified dockers scurried to his command; slats, panels and planks splintered and snapped with frantic urgency. Within seconds, the crate was no more.

"Jeeze!" Nagbeh sucked in his breath, stepping closer to inspect the gleaming yellow monster. He turned to Charles.

"Nyamplu?" A frown creased the minister's forehead, "How do you drive the thing, man? Who's going to train my operators?"

"Don't worry, minister," Charles was comfortingly reassuring, "We've arranged an instructor from England; free of charge."

Free of charge, my foot, thought James; the ministry had paid twice what the manufacturers were charging AAA.

"Free of charge?" Nagbeh was impressed, "It's good to do business with an honest company for a change."

Charles decided the time had come to exit; on a high note.

"Mr. Minister, may I suggest a little refreshment?"

"Nyamplu, you're on." Nagbeh slung an enormous, podgy arm around Charles' shoulder, "Let's take my car."

There were times, thought James, when the presence of a white partner was not required. He walked back to his own car; he would see Charles later.

"Super party, super thanks. See you at the beach tomorrow; your turn for chop; we’ll bring the plonk."

James winced as the car doors slammed. Retribution for the evening's excesses was already threatening at the back of his skull. He and Julie watched as the taillights disappeared down Banda Avenue before retreating inside and closing the front door.

"Interesting gossip from George Sanders this evening," James followed Julie towards the kitchen.

"What was that?"

"Seems Aloysius sold the M & M compound and his paint factory."

Julie grunted; it didn't seem particularly interesting news to her.

"Why?" She asked.

"Just said he wanted to retire."

Julie pushed open the kitchen door. She groaned, her shoulders drooping.

"Poor little Nathaniel," She gazed at the Himalayan peaks of dishes, bowls, glasses, ashtrays and cutlery stacked haphazardly around the kitchen, "I'll give him a hand in the morning."

But, next morning, for the first time in his life, Nathaniel failed to turn up for work.

Chapter thirty eight

James felt his way carefully down the corridor to the bathroom, his eyes screwed up against the morning sun streaming past the edges of the curtains at each window. The banging in his head refused to stop; it seemed to come from all around him. He turned on the cold water tap and gazed at himself in the mirror; red eyes glared back at him. He could still hear the banging.

"Damn," This time he knew what it was, "Not bloody again."

"James?" He heard Julie scurrying down the corridor.

"James?" He saw her appear behind him in the mirror.

"I know," He said, "They're not fireworks."

"James," She said, "There are soldiers looting the house next door."

They stood at the dining room window, peering out from behind the curtain. From the front door of the house opposite, soldiers in crumpled fatigues were streaming out like khaki ants, each one bowlegged with the weight of looted treasure. A television; a hi-fi set; a table; chairs; clothing. The procession seemed endless. A blue pickup stood waiting by the roadside, a soldier at the wheel. James guessed it had been commandeered.

It was all over very quickly; the last soldier slammed the tailgate shut and vaulted up to join his comrades in the back of the pickup. Crowded in amongst their ill-gotten booty, they roared off down the road and out of sight.

Banda Avenue seemed strangely deserted. All was silent, save for the sound of distant rifle shots, interrupted by occasional outbreaks of much louder machine gun fire. Julie let the curtain drop and stood back from the window. She turned to face him.

"What do we do now, James?"

There was a burst of knocking at the front door. Julie flattened herself against the wall.

"Don't answer it," She hissed.

James hadn't been about to. He watched as Julie squinted along the dining room window, trying to catch sight of the front door.

"James," She started to giggle, "Look."

James gazed over the top of Julie's head; iridescent on the edge of the front doorstep, just visible from the corner of the window, was the back of a pink trouser suit. Level with the doorbell, curls of hair, streaked and highlighted, were wound tightly around yellow and pink plastic rollers.

"Wow," He breathed, "Helen in curlers; it must be really important."

James opened the front door.

"Helen!" He tried to sound surprised; "You're up bright and early."

"Oh, hullo James," Helen patted awkwardly at her rollered hair, "There's been a coup, can I come in?"

James led the way to the kitchen.

"Come and have a cup of tea," He offered.

He opened the kitchen door.

"Damn!" He'd forgotten the night before.

Julie scampered to the rescue. "Sorry about this Helen; the houseboy hasn't turned up yet. Grab a seat while I stick the kettle on and wash a couple of cups."

James cleared a few inches of counter top and lent against it; sporadic gunfire and the wail of sirens sounded distantly through the kitchen window.

"So, what's the story, Helen?"

Helen told them the little she knew. It was on the radio, she said, the People's Emancipation Committee had assumed control of the country. The president had been executed, everyone was to remain calm, corruption and exploitation were at an end, and long live the new president, Winston Stanley Livingston.

"My houseboy said the soldiers shot the president and his chief of security and all the palace guard," Helen accepted a mug of fresh tea from Julie, "With machine guns. He said the bodies have been put on display by the roadside near the city hospital. He's gone to have a look."

"Mummy? What's all the noise and banging outside?"

A bleary-eyed, pyjama-clad Lucy stood at the doorway; behind her, a puzzled and slightly uneasy Fi stared wide-eyed at the three adults.

"Don't worry, Lucy," Julie was pouring mugs of tea for James and herself, "Just soldiers messing around. You two go and get dressed, and give Annie a shou..." The teapot dropped on the counter with a crash.

"Annie!" Julie whirled round, ashen faced, "James! She's not here; she’s at the Nyamplu's home!"

James swore.

"I'll drive over with Fi and bring Annie back."

"No," Helen interrupted, "I don't think that would be wise. There are soldiers screaming around all over town. They'd grab your car on the spot."

"Then I'll walk," Said James.

"You can't," Objected Julie, "It's miles."

"Only two or three," He replied, "Charles can walk back with Annie and me and collect Fi from here."

Within ten minutes, James had showered and dressed.

"See you later," He called towards the kitchen from the front door; Helen was sitting nursing a second mug of tea whilst Julie was tipping the first of the previous night's dirty dishes into the sink. "If I'm not back in two hours, try and give the embassy a buzz."

He closed the front door behind him.

James walked, as inconspicuously as he could, alongside Emancipation Boulevard whilst carloads of soldiers careered past. Battle-high and crazed with liquor, they leered from the windows, blazing automatic rifle fire skywards with terrifying abandon.

Half an hour later he crossed over Emancipation Boulevard and began the lonely trek down the freshly graded dirt road that led towards the house where the Nyamplu's lived. There were no cars, no cyclists, no walkers. Occasional groups of Ngombians clustered uncertainly at the doorways of their huts, watching him as he passed. Nobody smiled, nobody waved, nobody spoke; they just watched, silently. He walked on, not looking. His senses screamed silently within his ears; the back of his neck prickled with desperate unease. A police car cruised slowly past, the occupants eyeing him with sullen suspicion. He was really scared.

"James! Good to see you. How did you get here?"

Charles dragged James in through the blue painted front door and shut it behind them.

"How's the family? Have you had any problems over your way?"

"Everyone's fine, Charles; I walked over."

Relief swept over Charles' face like sunshine between clouds on a windy day.

"Come on in, James," He led the way into the terrazo-tiled living room, "Would you like a coffee?"

"Thanks, but no thanks," James did not sit down, "I had a tea before I left. Julie's expecting me to be back as soon as I can."

"I'll walk back with you," Charles was pacing up and down the room, a trapped animal in a too-small cage, "But first let me dress for the occasion."

He re-appeared ten minutes later, clad in filthy T-shirt and ragged shorts, a pair of cheap plastic sandals on his feet.

"I'm Moses Kpele," Said Charles, "Your houseboy." He started towards the door, his plastic sandals flapping noisily on the hard tiles. "Let's go, boss."

With Charles and Annie beside him, James' mood changed. He no longer felt isolated; he was no longer the object of hostile curiosity. They were just a father and his daughter and his friend out for a walk. He felt himself relax; felt the warmth in the sun once more. He almost felt like waving to passers-by. They crossed Emancipation Boulevard together and started down Banda Avenue.

The frantic scream of tyres was right behind them.

James jumped involuntarily, yanking Annie with him. A massive black sedan slid to a halt alongside. It lay there, a vast metal animal, its exhaust panting.

Three soldiers leapt out, bracketing them; one beside James, one beside Charles, their rifle barrels pointing straight at their stomachs. The third, a sergeant, crouched a few paces distant covering all of them. Armed, they bristled with hostility.

"Who are you?" James felt the muzzle of the rifle jab into his lowest rib; it hurt.

"James Davidson."


"You," Attention switched to Charles, "Who are you?"

"Moses, boss," Said Charles."

"Moses who?" The private next to Charles stiffened.

"Moses Kpele."

"What you do?"

"Houseboy, boss."

"You Ngombian?"

Christ, thought James absurdly, they can't tell each other apart any more than we can.

"Yeah, boss."

"Where you get this?" The private grabbed the strap of Charles' wristwatch.

James went ice cold. No houseboy would ever own a watch like that. He saw the private's finger whiten on the trigger. He felt the foresight of the rifle sharp against his ribs; hard as steel, he thought. He saw the sergeant's eyes glaring at him; blood red; glazed; terribly, terribly hard. He knew, with utter certainty, that this was the end. Blown away, he thought, that's what they say, blown away. He did not feel brave; he did not feel scared; just numb, detached.

Annie started to cry.

The sergeant swivelled; as if for the first time, he saw her.

"Hey, you," He barked at the private, "Quit it. Ain't you see the small girl cryin'?"

"Eh?" The soldier loosened his grasp, letting go of Charles' watch; his eyes widened, "Sorry, yah?"

The sergeant relaxed, straightening up from his animal crouch, lowering the butt of his rifle on to the road.

"She's cryin'," He said to James, "Take her home."

The change in mood was instant, total, inexplicable.

"Where you live?" The sergeant spoke to Charles.

"Over there, boss," Charles gestured behind him, "Not far."

"O.K., you walk."

The sergeant climbed back into the stolen car, beckoning his two privates to follow.

"Let's go."

"See you, man," The sergeant grinned from the car window, then suddenly, dramatically thrust his rifle aloft, "Long live President Stanley Livingston!"

The final five hundred yards along Banda Avenue lasted forever. Annie walked beside James, head bowed, clutching his hand, tears running silently down her cheeks. James wondered when, or if, he'd see Charles again.

"Jonathan?" It had taken nearly fifteen minutes to get through to the embassy.


"James Davidson here; what’s the drill? Who's in authority?"

"Hmm," There was a pause on the line, "I'll have to check with Aitchee on that."

Not for the first time, James wondered why embassy staff insisted on using the quaintly anachronistic initials H E when referring to the ambassador. He wondered if they referred to the Queen Mother as Kewem.

"Will the embassy be issuing advice?" He asked.

"Hmm," Jonathan pondered, "I suppose we will. Why don't you give us a bell on Tuesday?"

"Tuesday?" James was incredulous, "Jonathan, today's Saturday. There's just been a coup, the president and the entire security force have been shot to bits, there are soldiers screaming around the place like lunatics, and homes are being ransacked. For Goodness sake, what's this Tuesday business?"

There was another pause, then;

"Dash it all, James," Jonathan’s voice protested down the phone, "Tomorrow's Sunday, and Monday is a British bank holiday, you know."

Chapter thirty nine

For three nights after the coup, in an orgy of destruction, crazed hordes attacked and looted the homes of the erstwhile rich and powerful. But this time, as the nation's poor once again sought desperate revenge for all that had been denied them in the endless dark void of their existence, the violence and mayhem was no longer directionless. The rich themselves were beaten, incarcerated in Tuehville's filthy gaols, or forced to flee. Their furnishings, paintings, artifacts and carpets were borne away, later to become useless adornments within a thousand shacks and shanties, or cast away by the roadside. All that could not be carried was disfigured, defiled, or destroyed.

When the nights of chaos, terror and hysteria had finally drawn to an exhausted close, the residence of every single wealthy Ngombian had been stripped bare.

Except one.

"Extraordinary; the hordes simply bypassed Sharman's mansion."

Wednesday lunchtime at the newly re-opened Sabbatini, and there was just one topic of conversation at the bar.

"I'd have thought he'd have been a prime target."

"Amazing coincidence that he should have chosen Easter weekend to take his wife with him on a trip out of town."

"Almost as if he knew something was in the wind."

"Wonder how he could have picked that up?"

James knew how. Aloysius Sharman had listened to the little people; he’d known when to fold and leave the table.

Every prominent Ngombian that could be found had been thrown in jail, and their families placed under house arrest. The rest had gone into hiding. The international telephone exchange and airport were shut down. Banks revoked all credit facilities and called in all loans in full. A dawn to dusk curfew was imposed.

Charles did not come to the office. When James drove out to Sessaka suburb, he found the house locked and deserted.

"How are you going to handle the business?" Asked Julie, "Without Charles, you can't write cheques or anything."

"He'll turn up."

But James sounded considerably more confident than he felt.

NTV's newscaster, Zebediah Okole, sweating with terror, announced that the new president, Winston Stanley Livingston, would speak to the nation.

The presidential address was not a long statement, but it took a considerable time to deliver. Despite intensive coaching and a script printed wholly in capital letters, President Livingston was clearly ill at ease with the written word.

Corruption and oppression were at an end, he told his nation, and a new cabinet was to be appointed. It would consist of twelve men, and be known as the People's Emancipation Committee. All those who had formerly exploited their country would face justice and, Ngombia's new president stumbled agonisingly over the word, retribution.

All twelve members of the PEC were soldiers; all, save their leader, were privates. Winston Stanley Livingston, self-proclaimed president of the republic of Ngombia, alone had attained the rank of sergeant. He was unique amongst the committee members in being able to both read and write more than his name.

Business did not grind to a halt; it stopped, dead.

On the Thursday after the coup, after the nights of rioting and lawlessness had burned themselves to an end, Gbedeh International Airport was opened temporarily to permit two incoming flights by British Caledonian jumbos. Early on Friday morning, George Wainwright led a convoy of British families by road from Tuehville to Gbedeh. One hundred and eighty cars followed his black Jaguar and its stiffly fluttering Union Jack. Very few in the three and a half mile procession had been in Ngombia more than three years. The old timers were back at the Residency, helping Annabel Wainwright brew up the first of that rainy season's curry lunches.

Two days later, on the Sunday after Easter, the entire former Cabinet was taken by pulley-pulley bus to Tuehville beach, tied to posts, and machine-gunned to oblivion.

"Nasty business," Rupert Mainwaring was facing considerable difficulty juggling the gaps in his St. George's Day seating arrangements.

"At least," Tom Edwards' checked his scorecard before signing it; with over a year of his UN contract still to run, and no mine on which to advise, his golf handicap had improved immensely. "They haven't involved us, so far."

"I rather suspect that will come later," George Wainwright was a veteran of similar situations, "Until clear lines of authority are established, there is likely to be a period of considerable uncertainty." He squinted down at his spectacles as he wiped them clear of condensation, "Lawlessness will flourish. You may find things a little difficult for a while."

"Marauding hordes, eh?" Rupert's attention had been temporarily distracted from his table plan.

"More likely to be bands of petty pilferers masquerading as self-styled vigilantes," George slid his spectacles back on again, "If they do harass you, however unreasonably, keep calm and try to humour them. Physical resistance is asking for trouble. Remember, there is no longer any rule of law to protect you."

"What about the OAU Summit?" James had spent evenings debating with Julie whether or not they should quit, "Will it still go ahead?"

George Wainwright smiled; he was not unaware of James' self-interest.

"If the new regime can make it happen, it will. It's vital for their self-image that the OAU is staged here as planned."

But, George had continued it was important that "The West" did not encourage similar violent coups elsewhere in Africa.

"That means that we cannot recognise the new regime. Until we do, there can be no official communication with it."

"Whizzo," Rupert pencilled in Helen Edwards behind a pillar, "That should make them think."

"I'm not speaking to you because I don't recognise you!" Julie exploded, "Honestly! It's like little children hiding behind a curtain and yelling out that no-one can see them because they can't see anybody." She simmered off into the kitchen. "And to think the well-being of nations depends on intellects like that."

"But," James pursued her from fridge to cooker, "The important bit is that the OAU summit will still go ahead; the new lot want what the old lot wanted."


"Meaning that we've got to stay, at least until the last of the Farm-to-Market equipment has been shipped."

"But who will pay you?"

"USAID," James told her, "Their letters of credit were irrevocable."

"But you still have to find Charles."

Yes’, thought James, ‘He still had to find Charles’. AAA would get paid but, without both of their signatures, the company could not disgorge its wealth.

Lured by the prospect of easy extortion, surly and unkempt army personnel began to compete with the police for mastery of Ngombia's highways. Unlettered, untrained, and uncontrolled, they were no more than crude, armed bandits in shabby, ill-fitting uniforms. Roadblocks, both official and unofficial, sprang up like mushrooms outside town. Military vehicles were declared to have permanent official priority, and careered around the roads with contemptuous abandon.

With government coffers empty, and their erstwhile leaders in gaol or hiding, unpaid and undisciplined constabulary sought less orthodox means of remuneration. Many chose simply to rent out their uniforms to enterprising friends and relations. Speed cops, with their white helmet, dark glasses and Harley Davidson pursuit motorcycles, were able to command premium rates. With hire charges to pay and families to feed, the raggle-taggle army of imitation police grew ever more inventive in its ad-hoc interpretation of imaginary traffic rules. Any pretence at the maintenance of law and order vanished quickly and completely.

The dusk to dawn curfew remained unremittingly in force, and the telephone system obstinately dead. Evening after evening, families were trapped for interminable hours within their homes, isolated. Outside, all around them, armed soldiers prowled the gloom, blazing with random, vicious abandon at unseen and unknown targets. Unsettling during daylight, the violently loud gunfire was terrifying in the dark. Evenings became a profoundly wearing ordeal.

Julie resolved the problem by simply eliminating evenings. She shifted their lives forward several hours, so that supper became high tea at sunset, with bedtime an hour later. It was a considerable success.

"I like high tea," Lucy was dunking her toast soldier into the yolk of her boiled egg, "We get much nicer food than at lunch time."

Annie nodded enthusiastically; her cheeks were stuffed hamster like, with toast, butter, marmalade, egg, and half a triangle of cheese spread.

"And another reason I like it," Lucy sucked sticky yolk off her soldier, "Is because outside it's getting dark, but inside it's all bright and cosy."

"Orange juice?" Asked Julie. Nathaniel had spent half the morning squeezing a massive jugful.

Lucy slid her glass under the spout of the jug.

"Does everybody have tea at sunset?" She asked.

"No," Julie filled Lucy's glass, "Not everybody. But we do, I think it makes a nice ending to the day."

Instalment 13


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