You look lost. I’ll give you a hint: you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. First time here? It shows. You’ll have a blast, I promise, though, you shouldn’t be wandering on your own. Come, I’ll show you around. What? Do I look like a serial killer to you? Climb in. I love the sound of this city: Bu-Buju-Buju-Bujum-Bujum-Bujum-bura. Like the guy over there is beating drums. That’s Africa for you. One big goddam drumming party. Where you going? Uh-huh. Why you wanna to go to Bora Bora Beach? So boring! This city’s full of stories, Dorothy. Let’s find some, would you like that? Yeah. Little ol’ woman show you round. Do you golf? See, there’s more to Bujumbura than beach clubs for aid workers and NGOs. Dorothy, I asked if you golf. No, it’s for everyone, stupid, not only government ministers. What? No, this is my second home, I’m from Sierra Leone. You are surprised? You won’t only find us struggling in dinghies to Europe. Is that ok with you? None of your business. Well, I’ve hustled all over the world. I was passing through Freetown, you know what I mean? I’ve lived in London, Rome, Baltimore and Paris. I’m thrice married, but too tired for love and all that these days. My life’s been filled with lust and misery, like many round here, it’s the African way. Do you like this music? It’s Sat-B, a native of this city we’re passing through, and once we cross the border, I’ll be mixing this with something a little more avant garde, yeah, have you heard of Baloji, son of Lumumbashi by way of Belgium? Even though I’m old, I’d love to see him perform! But I’d have to go to Europe and Europe does not interest me. I’ve had my fill, you understand? Hm-mm. Always close to death or destitution and for what? Living like animals for Premier African remittances- money, direct to the ones you love, nought percent commission for transactions over five thousand francs. Nah, I’m done with all of that. Hmm. That’s a big question, for such a smal gal. Just shut up and enjoy the music, will ya? Look around. Deep green and red, the two most important colours of this continent. Red doesn’t only mean bloodshed, it’s the colour of the land, you see. Me, I love to grab some dust, rub it between my fingers, because whatever the border, when I rub it, I feel home, you get me? You get me, little Dorothy? Don’t look so scared! Trust me, you can go to the beach any time! When will you ever have the opportunity to go for a joy ride with an old woman, hmmm? Haha. You’ve brought your passport, good, there’s the border crossing. And...we’re in Congo. Have you been before? Hey! Do you speak to your mother like that? You don’t have shame to cuss an old woman? Silly girl. Calm yourself. I said be quiet! Instead of crying and screaming, look out the window. I’m sure you don’t see such beauty on the news reports, just the latest slaughter, right? Or those big belly kids with flies around their eyes and noses. I’ll tell you a secret I read online, in a closed group– those kids, they are crisis actors. I know. Makes you think, doesn’t it. You know, Smal gal– if this entire continent’s GDP was in the hands of women, we’d be cruising along a tarmacked paradise right now, instead of swerving cavernous potholes. It’s barely passable when the rains come, like competing in the Dakar Rally. I was once in front of two guys that chopped down tonnes of banana plants, and lined the roadway with leaves, like the Lord’s final entry into Jerusalem. I felt like I was driving towards New Jerusalem that day. No, I’m serious, but at least you’re smiling. What’s wrong, Smal gal? If you don’t wanna come any further, you’re free to go- but it’s a long walk back, na, God be with you! Didn’t think so. Under your seat, I’ve wrapped some small packages. If you see a travelling group along the way, pass one. It’s small, but it’s all I can do. It’s a pity there’s no way to nuke the pieces of– the young men who have been polluting this region with their presence for decades. Turn up the volume, please, I’m getting mad just thinking about them. You know, Smal gal, If more women ruled the world, things would be different. I’ve seen too many men do too many, many terrible things. Things that would make you pull out your hair and rip your eyes out in madness, child. But what would I know, eh? I’m just a tired old woman. I can’t get enough of this music! Ha! You don’t have much rhythm, do you, Smal gal? When we get to the outskirts of Lubumbashi, I’ll play some classic rumba in homage to a Kinshasa too far away to visit. Yes, Lubumbashi. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Lubumbashi? Your people are sending the quantity but not the quality, much to our dismay. You’re feeling dizzy? You’d better not be sick in my car, Smal gal, I’m warning you. Go lie in the back, then. And please, don’t worry about me. I’m used to driving without stopping, I’m almost spiritual like that. By the time you wake, we’ll be a little closer to our destination. Smal gal, don’t worry yourself. Don’t you trust me? Just sleep. You were out for a while, are you okay? Look at that view. Wonderful, no? Focus and your spirits will calm, trust. As though green and brown are the only two colours on earth. And plenty of rare birds and animals, wilder than the safari shows you people watch on TV. Yes. I need to stay alert. So, girl, stop the whining. You’re not going to die, are you? Are you? Yeah, we’re in dangerous country, full of whispering ghosts and bad blood. But we’ll be okay. What did King David say? Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil For You are with me. Focus on the forests and not the shadows, Smal gal, it will make you feel better. It’s the silence that gets me, That’s why I always have my music, I need to hear human voices. I used to listen to gospel, but I stopped, it made me cry too much, made me feel like I was singing my way to heaven, but I’m not ready for that, not yet. You’d fetch a high price if we were kidnapped, you know that? They’d go wild for the publicity you would generate. They don’t get enough with the locals, well, only when they burn them or use machetes. I’m joking. Not about the locals, about you. Calm down, Smal gal, I’m sorry. You’re very sensitive, ah? You know, Gal, this continent is like the Garden of Eden– no, I’m serious, very serious! Look at the produce hanging heavy on the trees. This land is so ripe, so fertile with all the natural riches you could ever want. We didn’t need to go anywhere. We have it all here, we just couldn’t convert it, too much had already been lost. If we could have the time back, this continent would be stronger, more powerful, not the weakness and chaos of today. This continent of gold and oil, diamonds, bauxite, uranium. Wakanda. Did you see that film, Smal gal? It was hard to catch over here, they didn’t dare show it to too many people, you get me? It’s not that I don’t love this place, Gal, it’s...complicated. I have tried to flee, the Lord knows it all. I’ve tried, not only physically, but here in my mind. I even tried to be more like you people, but it all don’t work. They laughed at me, I began to hate myself, so, I stopped. Some ghosts you can’t outrun, Smal gal, you understand? Yeah? No you don’t. You’ll understand when you’re my age. Maybe. I do sympathise, I do. To be alone and human is a terrifying thing. And to be young and female of the Caucasian persuasion, in what you think to be a hostile environment. But you mustn’t give in to fear, Smal gal, you must not. We’re close to Kalemie. Just wait and see. I haven’t always been such a good driver, though my father was a chauffeur for an army general. No, of course not. I am an educated woman, my dear. You should be grateful that you’re with me, na: we haven’t needed the assistance of any man so far. We haven’t stopped for fuel, toilets, food, or water. No sleep, well, not for me. We haven’t needed guns or machetes, and have I asked you for money? Just think of me as Morgan Freeman to your goddam Miss Daisy – ha! Oh, we are fortunate, Gal, Dieu merci. No, Smal gal, there are no beaches in Lubumbashi. What is this obsession with beaches? You people don’t have any other interests? You wanna be brown like me? Little Dorothy, you’ll never be brown like me! In Kalemie, you’ll be able to beach to your heart’s content. When we arrive, you can decide if you want to stay or continue with me to Lubumbashi. Eh! Why the panicking again, na? If you decide to come to Lubumbashi, you can take a flight, or a bus or whatever back to Bujumbura or Kinshasa, or wherever you wanna go, no problem, Smal gal. I assume you have money? Why you look at me like that? If I wanted your money, I would’ve beaten you and left you for dead a long time ago, believe me. What are you even doing here? Oh really? I assumed you were– but it makes sense. People like you rarely come to these parts for nothing. You should rather go back to Kansas, Dorothy. You’ll never be able to heal our dysfunction, it’s much too late. It’s a shame, really, as we have such good food. Well, that’s your opinion, isn’t it, but we definitely have excellent music, good weather outside the rainy, stormy seasons, and great dancing, you can’t say no to that. God has cursed us, is all: the worse the situation, the harder the party. It’s the music, I think. It’s one of our biggest exports along with raw materials and our bodies. We’re approaching Kalemie now. I’ll take you to your beach. I’m sorry, mi titi, but what did you expect? This is Kalemie, not St. Tropez. Forget about it now, at least you know for sure that you’re not staying. It’s strange, though, I like this town. I don’t understand your problem. Lubumbashi is good, you’ll like it, I hope, only, learn to lower your expectations, my dear. That’s why you people rarely last long here. I’ve already told you, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Come on, mi Smal gal, take some time to appreciate the green of the hills: the colours like limes, emeralds, gangrene. If you stretch your neck out further– and be careful that something hanging low won’t rip your head off– you might be able to spy a swamp, maybe a tributary or two. And if we’re very lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a gorilla. But that would be a miracle, so close to this car? Hmm, don’t get your hopes up, Dorothy. To your left, I think they are brownstone mines. Malachite, copper, the thing in our phones– cobalt. If you wanna see how far we’ve progressed, come and spend your next holiday in this area. You’d have plenty to do, Miss Kansas, it would be a working holiday– ha! Uh-huh. We could talk about these things all night, but what would be the point? What can be done? How can you fix smashed glass with tweezers, my dear, you get me? Yes, but I have reason to be pessimistic. I know the cost of raw materials, lands and mineral resources. Here’s a joke for you: how many dead bodies does it take to make a diamond ring? A bloody lot– ha! What about this one: how many dead African children does it take to make a phone? Why you squeezing your face? We’ll soon be arriving at Mwera. Yes, I speed like a derby racer, it’s better that way, leisurely driving is for Europe, no? It was actually my second husband who taught me to drive like this. He was a pastor, a remarkable man, Smal gal. I miss his whisky kisses. Yes. Him and the first one. The third one is still alive, but I don’t know where he is, and I don’t care. Mi pickin’ dey know. Keep your eyes on the road, Smal gal. At first light we have to be at Pweto for the ferry crossing and then, final descent. My belly is aching for rice and pondu, ah! Stupid, stupid girl! Hey! I don’t tolerate that kind of nonsense! You think you are who to behave in such a way? I should open the door and kick you out! Crying won’t do anything, you’re no longer a schoolgirl. Remember where you are and who you are with. If you raise your voice at me one more time, I will open the door and cast you out of this vehicle! Don’t mess with me, titi. STOP CRYING! Good. Don’t wanna hear your voice, na, turn the volume up. Are you not tracking where we are on the map? You’re just assuming I know where I’m going. Course I do! I’m just saying that you’re making assumptions without knowing whether they are reasonable or not. I’ve driven this route many times before, stupid. Those ferrymen know me very well. And that’s why your behaviour was unacceptable. Men can smell fear like a piece of rotting fish. I don’t know how you’ve survived so far with such a character. Oh really? And where is she now? Well, are you surprised? We’re making the final descent, so, stay alert, keep your mouth shut, and no more sleeping. We’re here, Smal gal, we’ve arrived. Lord have mercy, we’ve arrived! Every time feels like the first time. The Almighty grants His grace on those who– hey, close your eyes and pray with me, na! Despite everything, it’s been good travelling with you Smal gal. Safe onward journey. And if you want some free advice from an old woman: change your attitude. You people have it all. We have to fight for everything, Every little thing. Learn from that. Kwaheri, mi Smal gal. Ah, you are screaming again? I’ve never met anyone who cries as much as you. Even the refugee children don’t cry this much– what is it? There are many things you can do here, except the beach thing you love so much. Go find your people, I’m sure they will look after you. No. No, sorry, it’s not possible. I said no, I have...business in Kitwe. If you don’t have enough money for a flight, give me your number and when I come back here, I’ll call you and collect you back to Bujumbura. Ah! Ah! Ah! You’re making a scene! Stop, na! What do you want me to do? I said no! You understand me? No! My fault? My – fault? You said you wanted to go to the beach, I told you that there was more to Bujumbura than Bora Bora beach. I showed you, you weren’t satisfied, so, to appease you, I took you to Kalemie. You said it wasn’t inviting enough, or clean, or whatever. What more do you want me to do, na? Did you ask me about my plans? What I wanted to do? Where I was going? Little girl, but there’s nothing more I can do, so go. Go, na Oh, oh, oh! Ekooo! But you said you had no money! Eyyyy! Ekooo! Look at all those notes! You must have...eyyyyy! Little Dorothy, not so innocent after all, ha! Hiding them away all this time. Very naughty, Miss Kansas, very bad, I’m not impressed at all. Get off from the ground, get up! You don’t have shame? Give it to me – the notes. All of them. It’s for the car! It’s not running on air, na. And I promise you, we’ll need it for the next part of journey. Get in and shut the door. You hungry? Okay, let’s go and find something to eat. Welcome to Lubumbashi, Dorothy. You as far away from Kansas as can be – ha!
About the Author
Efua Boadu is a British-Ghanaian writer living in the UK. In early 2019, her poetry was shortlisted for the Palette Poetry Emerging Poet Prize. In 2021, Efua was a finalist for the London Southbank’s New Poetry Collective. Efua’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Afritondo Literary Magazine. In 2022, her short story “The Good Shepherd”, was longlisted for the Afritondo Short Story Prize and was featured in its anthology. She has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing in the Northwest of England. Find her on Twitter @FRH210
*Featured image by Goran Tomic