The Americans are coming. They arrive in big white safari cars that make my ears hum and the gazelle break through the scrub like fork lightning. We are used to Americans because Americans built the orphanage and the school. Sometimes groups of Americans arrive in trucks to look at the school and stand in front of it with their thumbs pointed at the sky. I used to worry that the Americans would unpeel the timber from the walls and load the school back onto the trucks and take it away again.
The Americans leave their safari cars in a long snake tail along the road. They unload tools and animals that I do not recognise and carry them to the chieftain’s hut. The chieftain pokes at the animals and hits the tools against the dust.
He lets the Americans stay.
The Americans assemble tents by the river. They unfold chairs and build a fire then sit down and watch it until dusk. They talk loud American. We lie in the scrub and listen for words we recognise.
An American gets up from the fire and walks towards us. He fumbles with his crouch and his torchlight jerks about in the grass like a dying lizard. My friends giggle. They get up and run away. But I am entranced by the whiteness of his penis as he urinates into the grass.
He has tucked it away when he notices me. I can feel his eyes over the blackness of my skin and the tick-like braids in my hair.
“Hello,” he says in American.
“Hello,” I say.
The man takes my hand and brings me to the fire. The Americans stare at me. They smell of flowers and drink from long glass bottles. They speak in American for a while then lose interest in me.
The man speaks my language while reading a book. His name is Sam. I ask him if he is here to see the school and he laughs.
Then he asks about me. It excites me to be a curiosity. I tell him about my mother’s death and school and about the work trucks that will take me away next year to the farms. He nods as he listens. He licks his smile and picks skin from his knuckles.
I ask him about
his smile widens. He leans into the dust and draws long tree trunks poked with
windows. He says that America is a
forest of trees and he lives in the top-most window. He says that everyone owns
a car and they drive over bridges made of steel. America
He says that you can have whatever you can dream of in
problem is deciding what that is. America
The Americans don’t leave. More Americans arrive until there is a whole village formed by the river. We watch them sit and talk and bring supplies back from the horizon. Gossip has begun as to why they are here. They say there is a war being fought. They say fire fell from the sky onto
the Americans fled like ants from an anthill. America
They say the Americans are refugees.
I ask Sam if this is true. He laughs and says yes. But he says that
recover. He says that America is an
idea and ideas can’t be beaten from his mind. He gives me a slice of chicken
meat and I nibble it into fine threads. America
Then I ask if he will take me to
him. He laughs and laughs. America
He says yes.
There are new Americans in the village but these Americans are different. Some have yellow skin like old paper with slits cut for eyes. They don’t speak American but a strange bubbly gibberish. Others have dirty brown skin or pale white skin and sunny hair. Soon there are tent villages on all sides divisible by the colour of skin.
Sam says the tents by the orphanage are the Asians. There are the British by the game reserve and the Russians further along the river. There are more people but they are more names for me to forget.
Then he stops smiling and his face becomes frightening. I can see creases like war paint fold across his cheeks. He points at the Asians. He tells me they are dangerous because they don’t agree that people should be allowed to have whatever they want.
He says they dropped fire on
In the night-time I drop fire on the Asian tents.
The Asians must have known I would come. They put out the fires with long hoses as I watch from the scrub. They shout at themselves. They shout at their friends and the darkness and the shouting spreads from tent to tent until the village is surrounded by snarling and barking of vicious pack dogs. Out of every safari car comes guns. Guns are fired into the air and the sky screams back in agony.
Men from the camps come into the village holding guns and fat torches. They shout at each other in their region’s American. We hide in our huts and watch. I see Sam with his scabby fist curled around a pistol and the torchlight catching in the creases of his cheeks. He is shouting American into the night.
They shout until the grey fuzz of dawn nibbles at the darkness. They speak in hushed tones until light.
By evening the safari cars are packed and gone.
Sometimes I sit in the dust where Sam’s tent once was with flowers against my nostrils and know that Sam will come back for me when the trees sprout again from the ash bed of American dust. I imagine ridiculous things, like drinking from long glass bottles and placing one shoed foot against the pedal of a safari car as it follows the other cars to wherever it is that people go.
Safari cars drive along the road but nobody stops to look at the orphanage. Sometimes, when my mind is weak, I wonder why people who have everything ever bothered to stop at all.