RECUPERATIVE WANDERINGS IN AFRICA — 1970
(an excerpt from David’s second novel, “Charity in Lebanon”, to be published in 2018. Here Michael, as a casualty from Vietnam, emerges from repairs at Chelsea Naval Hospital and from a lengthy convalescence in the basement of his parents’ home, followed by self prescribed wanderings in Africa where he sought to find the necessary din for further recuperation. He has just returned to his parents living room to discuss the future.)
Yes, the fair skinned androgen, targeted through his adolescence for his high voice, his shapeliness, his droop before the popular appetite — now perforated with metal fragments — had come home from his self-imposed recuperative wanderings in Africa.
A resumption of movement, it had been, for the pale boy resurrected from the cellar…along the earth’s equator, offering to his mind the requisite high velocity…RICKETY CLICKITY RICKETY… maybe in preparation, he wondered, for the eventual return to the ‘ would be’ narratives in the smoking room at Suffield Academy which no longer existed.
Perpetual movement it had been as a natural antidote for the legacy and residue of causalgia; moving faster — a din in his ears — than his fears could congregate and advance on him. A bombardment of the senses precluding insinuation and infection from inside. Not the ‘do dah, do dah’ or the ‘la la la’ for the burning in the palm…for that had disappeared the second Dr. Whitcomb had found the nerve in question and cut it. But rather the trauma’s legacy — its dwelling in him regardless — the unconscious fear of light and noise even though they could do his actual body, writ small, no harm.
So, the ‘doo dah’ had soon enough become ‘He’ standing in the corridor on that train from Cairo to Aswan, head once again stretched out the window of the rackety car as it jerked through the night…up the Nile…en route to the ferry terminus at Wadi Halfa and the descent into Nubia and across Africa. Exhilarated with the movement and once there at the next stop on his map, anxious to move again. Yes…Haraka Baraka…movement is a blessing…a tonic for neurosis.
Waking up on the planks of a ‘last-class’ rail car…the contrapuntal of the pistons cadence and the carriage clattering up the Nile… opening his eyes to the black balls of a Sudanese fedayeen as he sought to step over Michael in his jellabiya. Stepping off at the terminus in Khartoum where he and his mother-in-him searched to reconnoiter with the ghost of General Gordon in vain; where afterward he had Christmas by himself in a Greek restaurant festooned in paper pastel banners. Off at dusk the next day, purchased for a pittance, a place on a flatbed billowing across the Hamada under crystalline skies toward Kasala on the edge of Eritrean highlands, pausing in the stillness at a stark mud and wattle cone whose only call to Allah inside was two unadorned crossed spears. There had only been a splash of water from the driver’s bottle before his forehead had been put down onto the earth; a smoke, a chai afterward before the driver was once again billowing toward the border. While an erstwhile Yankee companion in Michael’s mind took out his Jew’s harp and leaned into:
“Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone”
While the Arabs dug deeper into their burlap amidst the sacks and slept on.
Into the thin air of Asmara by New Year’s Eve…just in time, by candle, to stare at a peeling plaster ceiling while such a girl’s perfectly noble head — above her bones and what flesh she had under her pink chiffon — also stared at the ceiling, waiting for him to make a move…which he did finally…for the door as she chirped for some more dollars. It was all so sad.
And so it went …under a bed in an Indian flop house in Kampala as the strongman Idi Amin DaDa stormed in…bathing his poor colon with ointments at the headwaters of the Congo…put in a burlap manger of sorts on the back of a Bedford covered like a red indian in laterite dust for the journey back to Mahagi port, fearing the damage he was doing to what life he had left, through the always festering vegetation, eventually to Nairobi…no skipping over the ocean this time…recuperating finally, skin and bones in the manse of a stranded English widow who would have him take her diamonds out of Kenyatta’s country in his asshole as a gesture of gratitude for her hospitality. All on an aging woman’s whisper and a slight caress.
So, a down to earth version of what the Demerol had incited earlier in neuro-psychiatric, albeit with less control over pace and content. All the while as his Wolfe once confided to him:
“The old hunger for voyages fed at his heart…To go alone…into strange cities; to meet strange people and to pass again before they could know him; to wander, like his own legend, across the earth — -it seemed to him there could be no better thing than that.”
Two years it had been like that…more or less…squatting on makeshift decks or in the back of dug outs, seemingly washed around the tributaries of the Nile and Congo rivers or inhaling dust on the back of cargo trucks as they thundered across desert pistes and slammed into flood torn wadi’s, perched up high on their sacks of cargo behind the cab, a skinny redman on a dollar a day for all the fruit and gruel he could eat; all his earthly possessions in his old boy scout knapsack. Long enough away in any case for the pink scars to fade and for his bowels to adapt to exotic tastes and to grow the great colonies of various microbes and worms still in his guts as I write, to gain a healthy distance from his earlier reptilian life in the basement. Now sitting in that central room, drawing in the small clan around his designs for a business success, to be supported by mostly unspent disability checks from the Army.