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 15

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Chapter forty six

James carried Helen inside and laid her on the couch in the living room; Lucy and Annie watched, fascinated.

"Wave some brandy under her nose," Suggested Julie.

James picked one of the abandoned bottles off the floor and pulled out the cork. He held the open top next to Helen's face, feeling faintly ridiculous. Helen's nosed twitched.

"Hot sweet tea," Said Julie and scuttled off to the kitchen.

Helen stirred.

"Sorry," She mumbled, "Didn't mean to make a fool of myself."

"You didn't," James told her.

"I saw your visitors," Helen tried to sit up, but collapsed back against the arm of the couch, "I thought they didn't look like the sort of guests you'd want to have in your home."

"They weren't," Said Lucy solemnly, "They spoiled my birthday."

"They made mummy cold," Said Annie, "She was shivering in the kitchen."

Julie reappeared with a steaming cup of tea.

"Six spoons of sugar," She said, "Drink it up."

Helen grasped the cup in shaking hands.

"Six spoons?" The cup clattered against Helen’s' trembling teeth as she tried to smile, "Bang goes my diet."

Gradually, Helen began to relax.

"It was all I could think of," She explained, "Tom's out this evening with the Resident Rep, and I could hardly turn up at your door on my own brandishing sticks and staves."

"The lanterns were far more effective," Said James.

"I made them for the BWA fete," Helen eyed her creations as they lay grinning emptily in the corner of the room, "Never thought they'd really come in useful."

James thoughts were far away.

"I promised Lucy a pumpkin for her birthday once," He said quietly, almost to himself, "Long ago."

Helen yawned, suddenly very tired.

"That's nice," She mumbled.

The cup in Helen's hand slid gently from her slackening grasp and, with an almost inaudible thud, dropped on to the carpetted floor. Within seconds, she was asleep.

Annie eyed the slumbering form.

"Is it time for bed for us as well?"

"Yes," Said Julie, "I think it is."

Lucy and Annie trailed reluctantly towards their bedroom; at the door, Lucy turned.

"Daddy?" She asked, "Do you think Mrs. Edwards was brave?"

"Yes," Said James, "Very."

"Gbandulo wants to meet me?"

Charles' voice, heavy with incredulity, rumbled out of the gloom of the tiny hut in Pelepah village.


"He thinks I might be OK?" The uncertainty in Charles' voice was tinged with a hint of pride.

"That's what he said."

Charles scratched his head. Behind him, almost invisible at the back of the hut, Aloysius clucked and fidgetted anxiously.

"And you think I'd be safe?" Charles persisted.

James inclined his head thoughtfully.

"Gbandulo relies on us and he's making huge money out of us. It's difficult to see him killing the goose that lays his golden eggs."

Charles scratched at his beard, one eye on his dusty plastic sandals.

"Dammit," He muttered, tugging at his grey, tattered vest, "Me seeing Gbandulo like this," He sucked dismissively through his teeth, "A houseboy and a driver carving up the country."

"No, Charles," James warned, "You don't see Gbandulo dressed like that. You dress the way you did for Nagbeh, only smarter. The PEC don't look like houseboys any more."

They sat in James' car, as far from the Ministry of Agriculture as they could get without losing sight. Charles sucked impatiently through his teeth.

"What time we supposed to be meeting him?"

"Ten thirty."

"Huh," Charles grunted," It's eleven already and the guy ain't even showed up for the office yet."

"Learning how to behave like a Minister of State."

Charles was silent for a few minutes, then.

"What kind of car you said he drove?"

"Lincoln Continental," Said James, "Light blue: metallic."

Charles sucked quietly through his teeth.

"Last year it was a garbage truck."

James looked sideways at his partner. The hollowed cheeks had filled out and were once again clean-shaven. From somewhere the tortoiseshell shades had been dug out and dusted down. Charles had sweet-talked a village maiden into washing his old emerald green suit on a rock in the Pelepah river. Afterwards, she'd spent hours tenderly pressing it with an ancient, wrist-breaking flat iron. From a drab, mud-caked chrysallis had re-emerged the Charles Nyamplu of yesteryear, eyes sparkling, hair freshly washed and combed, bristling with bounce, ready to do business.

"Hey, James, look."

James' gaze swivelled to where Charles was staring up the street.

An immense limousine, glittering powder-blue paintwork, silver-bronze tinted windows, gold leather-look roof, and radiator grill like a miniature Parthenon slid silently up to the front entrance of the ministry. On every wheel, like chromium-plated souvenirs from Boadicea's chariot, silvery blades of steel scythed outwards from hub to gleaming whitewalled tyre.

"Yeeeaahh," Breathed Charles, "Nice wheels, man."

A rear door opened and Sunday Gbandulo stepped out onto the pavement. Gold buckles on blue and white patent leather shoes twinkled in the sunlight; lapels on a sky-blue, double-breasted jacket reached halfway to its shoulders and considerably past those of its owner; the ruffles on the front of the colour-coordinated, sky-blue shirt were topped by a chin-high collar on which the minister's jaw rested with considerable discomfort. Charles watched, fascinated, as Gbandulo let go of the car door handle and teetered unsteadily towards the ministry building on top of five-inch stacked heels not quite concealed beneath the twenty-five inch bell bottoms of powder blue trousers.

"Dammit," Charles breathed again, "Nice threads, man."

The meeting with Gbandulo went extraordinarily well. James eyed his partner appreciatively.

'A fish back in water,’ He thought, and smiled bleakly as Charles and Gbandulo collapsed in thigh-slapping hilarity over some unfathomable Ngombian joke. Any minute now, he thought, they'll be going off for a drink together.

"Dammit, Nyamplu," The minister wiped tears of merriment from his eyes, "What you say to a drink?"

"Mr Minister," Charles deep, resonant voice filled the room, "You're on, man."

The two Ngombians wandered off down the corridor, Gbandulo's sky-blue arm resting comfortably on Charles' emerald green shoulder.

It occurred to James that, once again, this was one of those moments when the presence of a white partner was not required. He walked back to his car; he would see Charles later.

"Oh, Damn and blast!"

George Wainwright swore and switched off the beam. The ancient Bell and Howell 16mm film projector clattered to a halt, masticating celluloid slivers of Her Majesty's Coronation noisily between still churning sprockets.

"Lights, somebody."

In the darkness by the door, Jonathan Swift leapt dutifully to his feet and pressed the wall switch. The Residency drawing room flooded into life, its occupants blinking and raising hands protectively over wincing eyes. Behind them, the ambassador began poking around with vague hopefulness in the innards of the recalcitrant apparatus.

"Just in time," Tom Edwards sighed with relief and lifted a glass of half-melted ice cubes off the floor by his chair, "Tide's gone right out. Last month had to sit right through the whole bally thing without a break."

"Top up, Tom?"

Aquamarine and dangerously decollete, armed with a silver salver of tinkling drinks, Annabel Wainwright bubbled chirpily between the rows of guests, disbursing good cheer and refills with irrepressible effervescence.

"My goodness," Annabel leant forward and peered over the rim of Tom's glass, "You're quite dry."

Annabel's gravity-defying superstructure wobbled precariously; Tom’s eyebrows quivered, spaniel-like.

"Mustn't let that happen again, must we?" Annabel sank easily to her knees and lifted two full glasses from her tray onto the carpet beneath Tom's chair. Tom's spectacles slid forlornly to the tip of his nose, hopelessly misted.

"There," She rose to her feet, radiating satisfaction, "I've left you a spare, just in case."

Head bowed, Tom sat silently polishing his steam-fogged glasses with a crumpled, grey-white handkerchief. Next to him, pink as ever, Helen Edwards shimmered and simmered as the eyes of every man who dared followed the wriggling progress of the ambassador's wife's deliciously plump rear as it and its owner bustled happily around the room.

"James," Tom stuffed his handkerchief into his trouser pocket and slid his glasses back onto his nose, "You know this Gbandulo fellow, don't you?"

"Sunday Gbandulo? The Minister of Agriculture?"

"That's the one," Tom leant down beside his chair to hoist up one of his two freshly-filled tumblers, "What's he like to deal with?"

James thought for a moment.

"Not much to say, really," He said carefully, "He's dealt with us on a number of occasions. I don't think anyone would accuse him of being overburdened by formal education, but he's always been cooperative. Seems to be in favour with the president, which helps."

"Mmm," Tom sipped comfortingly at his ice-cold gin and tonic, "That's what I thought."

James was curious.

"Why do you ask?"

"Just wondered," Said Tom, slightly too casually, "Our Resident Rep had an interesting meeting with President Livingston the other day."


"There may be nothing in it," Tom shrugged, "But Livingston had an interesting idea that makes some sense."

An agitated rasping sound came from the back of the room as the ambassador scraped busily at the newly trimmed ends of film in his splicer.

"What's the President got in mind?"

"Livingston's concerned that the Ministry of Lands and Mines has been dormant since Climax pulled out. He sees it as enormously wasteful to have an entire ministry hanging around doing nothing, particularly in view of the critical shortage of indigenous skills since the coup."

"Does he have any suggestions?"

"Two things, really. One is to amalgamate the Ministry of Lands and Mines with the Ministry of Agriculture; call it the Ministry of Natural Resources, or something like that."

"And the other?"

"He'd like to see Gbang mine re-opened."

"Gbang? Re-opened? When?"

"A ceremonial signing to coincide with the OAU summit would be nice."

"Iron ore and Timber and Agriculture," Mused James, half to himself, "That's effectively Ngombia's entire economic wealth."

"Not quite," Murmured Tom.

"Not quite?" Queried James, "What else is there?"

Tom shrugged.

"Diamonds," He said quietly.

"Diamonds?" James was staggered, "Where?"

"Up in the north west corner," Tom waved his drink vaguely above his shoulder, "Near the border."

"How do you know?"

"When we had that very dry spell a couple of years back," He replied, "You remember all those water shortages?"

James nodded.

"The St Luke almost dried up," Tom recounted, "Villagers fishing in rock pools way up-country found dozens of the things in the gravel on the bed of the river," He took a generous swig from his glass, "Stones that size don’t get carried long distances, so the pipe can’t be far away. If it’s the right side of the border, Ngombia could be a very wealthy country indeed."

He paused, not entirely steady on his feet.

"State secret," Tom winked heavily and tapped the side of his nose, "Not supposed to tell anyone."

"And all of this would come under the control of one ministry?"

"That seems to be the general idea."

"Any thoughts as to who would be running it?"

"Oh, yes," Tom gave the ice cubes in his glass a determined swirl with his forefinger, "Livingston was quite clear on that; he wants Sunday Gbandulo."

There was a clang from behind them as the ambassador slammed shut the door of the projector.

"Fixed it," George Wainwright bellowed triumphantly, "Ready to roll. Lights please, Jonathan."

For once, James had no difficulty arranging a courtesy call to the president’s office. He found Stanley Livingston was looking immensely pleased with himself, and was waved into one of the two massive leather chairs in front of the vast mahogany desk.

"Your expatriate cocktail parties are such an effective way of passing on gossip, don’t you think?"

James blinked, lost for words; he couldn't quite believe that Tom had simply been an unwitting messenger

"Tell me, Mr Davidson," Livingston faced James across the leather-topped desk, "Would you be able to identify suitable candidates to negotiate for the Gbang concession?"

The question caught James completely off guard.

"You really do want to re-open Gbang?"

"Of course."

"And place Mines and Agriculture under a single ministry?"

"It would make sense."

"With Minister Gbandulo as its head?"


"And now you'd like us to identify possible contenders for the Gbang mine concession?"

"That is what I said," Livingston spread his hands expressively, "Your company has proven trustworthy and reliable in the past; you are accustomed to dealing with this government; you are well-financed."

Without thinking, James leant forward.

"And an appropriately funded diamond concession, Mr President?" He asked, "Is that to also be included?"

The world went silent. With sudden, terrible clarity, James realised that Tom had told him too much. He sat, waiting, unable to move, unable to think of anything to say.

Livingston lowered his hands on to the desk and clasped them carefully in front of him. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he smiled.

"Why not, Mr Davidson?" He murmured softly, "Why not?"

Why not indeed.

James sat silent, overwhelmed.

This wasn't Tudor mansions, country estates and Tatler. This was private Caribbean islands, ocean-going yachts, Liechtenstein chateaux.

James felt Livingston waiting, watching him.

A nation's entire resources, he thought.

All that wealth.

All that power.

He rose, and held out his hand to Ngombia's new President.

To James' baffled amazement, Julie didn't even want to listen.

"But," James was trying very hard to be patient, "Don't you see what this means? This country's entire natural resources: everything it has." He paused for breath, "Livingston is offering to share all of Ngombia with us."

Julie stared at him, stricken.

"All of Ngombia," Her voice trembled, "There is no all of Ngombia any more; the country's in ruins and it's you and your lot that are to blame."

James was flabbergasted.

"That's ridiculous," He protested, "How can you possibly say that?"

"Easily," Julie was quietly angry, "So easily. Remember the riots that started all this? And remember why they happened?" She paused briefly, then pressed on, not waiting for an answer, "Because the last president raised rice prices so the poor couldn't afford to eat."

"You can hardly blame me for that," Objected James.

"Oh, yes, I can," Julie assured him, "You and I both know why he raised rice prices."

"Of course we do," James felt his feet touch firmer ground, "To allow country farmers to be able to sell their rice at a profit: nothing wrong in that."

"Oh, come on," Julie’s voice was contemptuous, "None of you gave a damn about country farmers: you wanted the Farm to Market scheme to work because you knew you'd make a fortune if it did."

"So, we made a profit," James shrugged, "But thousands of subsistence farmers throughout the country also got a chance to better their standard of living. What's so terrible about that?"

"James," Julie stared straight at him, unblinking, "You know as well as I do that not a single farmer is one Nomba better-off. There is no Farm to Market project. All that's happened is that roads everywhere around the city have been bulldozed into a maze of mad Cresta runs with PRC trucks and pickups screaming around them," She dropped her gaze, then added quietly, almost to herself, "And God help anyone who happens to be in their way."

"And all of that is my fault?"

Julie looked up at him.

"Try putting it the other way round, James. If you hadn't got involved, would any of this have happened?"

But James had stopped listening: he’d seen his vision and was not about to let it slip from his grasp.

That night, James dreamt. He dreamt of themselves; on a cruise ship full of bright lights and activity, Julie vibrant with excitement and anticipation. Suddenly, in the middle of their journey, the scene changed. But, this time, James knew exactly who he was and where he was going.

He stood on the bridge, captain of all he surveyed, and watched as a lifeboat was lowered seawards: it was empty, save for Julie. She sat, alone and frightened, her eyes pleading silently with him to come with her; but he wouldn't; the pull of the ship's bright lights and the excitement of the journey were too strong.

He watched from the ship's bridge as the boat was cast off and drifted away. He saw her raise a tiny sail and try to follow; but she could not possibly keep up as his ship surged on, unheeding, confident of its unknown destination. He watched as Julie fell further and further astern until, eventually, in the distance, he saw her give up and lower her sail. He could hardly see her but, far away as she was, he knew she was crying. She sat, very small, utterly alone, gazing after his ship until it was lost to view.

Chapter forty seven

"I don't like it."

Aloysius paced the room, hands clasped hard behind his back, "I don't like it at all."

Charles was dumbfounded.

"The guy gives us all of Ngombia, and you don't like it?" His flabbergasted eyebrows reared up over the tortoiseshell rims of his shades like startled hairy caterpillars, "What the hell's wrong with that?"


"So how come you ain't dancing for joy?"

"Because I'm worried, that's how come."

"Worried about what?"

"About everything going through one young man; worried because he's flaunting it; worried because others are jealous." Aloysius was pacing again, "Pencil has a friend on the PEC and he hears the rumbles."

"So they're jealous," Charles spread his arms in mock helplessness, "Why's that our problem?"

"It's our problem because the rumours are dangerous for Livingston. Everyone on the PEC knows that he's Gbandulo's protector; if they turn on Gbandulo, Livingston's position becomes very exposed."

Through all of this, James had sat silent, unable to offer any useful comment.

"What do you think will happen?" He asked.

"Livingston has to distance himself from Gbandulo," Aloysius massaged his temples wearily, as if trying to erase his worries, "He may have to let him go."

"Let him go?"

"Get rid of him, " Aloysius’ mouth tightened, "Betray him, call it what you will."

"Hey, Aloysius," Charles interrupted, "Come on, man. How's Livingston supposed to betray Gbandulo? The two of them are both in this together, up to their necks."

"No," Replied Aloysius quietly, "They're not. The only connection between Livingston and Gbandulo is hearsay and envy."

"But, what about all the commissions we've been paying? They shared all that - Gbandulo told us they did."

"He told you," Aloysius mocked, "And you believed him."

"Why not?" Said Charles defensively.

"I’ll tell you why not," Aloysius was suddenly serious, "Every single payment you made went into Gbandulo’s account. Did you ever make a payment to Livingston? No, of course you didn't." He paused, then added "And how do you think Gbandulo paid Livingston?"

"Cash," Admitted James.

"Yeah," Charles couldn't resist it, "He told us so himself."

"Yes, Charles," The faintly mocking tone was back, "I'm sure he did; and cash leaves no trail." Aloysius squatted down on his haunches, resting his back against the wall of the hut, "The President is clean as a whistle and Gbandulo's a sitting duck. Livingston can pick him off any time he wants: and when he does, AAA goes down with him."

There was a long silence. Like a dream at dawn, James' vision seemed to be dissolving before his eyes.

"Damn," Charles muttered quietly, "What are we supposed to do?"

There was no hesitation in Aloysius voice.

"Get your money out of Ngombia," He said, "The party's over."

Instalment 16

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