Stranded under the mango tree

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 Wierdly, through no express effort of my own, I seemed to be in high demand during my final weekend here. On the Saturday I went to the Internet café to post the few blogs I’d gotten around to writing, presenting the building tourist guide style to Thomas. He’s the 2nd volunteer to arrive at SNA in 2 weeks. I feel for them both, really. There’s nothing for them to do.

Hannah (Luca’s year long replacement) happened to be sitting just outside the café and discussing something of utmost importance in German on the phone. Upon seeing us, she held a hand over the bottom part of it and stage-whispered a proposal to accompany her and Nina to the tailors that afternoon. I almost considered walking away after that ridiculous gesture when I realised that she was still talking.

 “Anyway”, she added, “Nina said you had a few things to collect right? For your friends or something?”

 Mmm, true. Thomas seemed pretty keen on the idea so the three of us shuffled across there after I’d finished and he’d chosen a panne (the material from which the clothes are made) from the market. Gifts in hand, my mood lifted somewhat, but I was beginning to tire of the company of others so made some excuse up about spending the final weekend with my family and caught a zem back to my room to read and think.

It’s a pretty shitty character trait but when I’m in the middle of doing nothing in particular I make a point of ignoring my phone when it rings – but for some reason today I decided to pick it up and answer. Pierre, chirpy as ever, greeted me from the other end. Fancy a drink, he asked? I couldn’t think of a reason to turn him down so decided to go along.

“Whereabouts?”

In typical Shaun of the Dead fashion, he responded. “…Under the Mango Tree?”

I laughed. Where else?

 

I caught him sitting at his usual table, usual drink in hand. I even think he was sat in the same seat and had smoked his way through the same percentage of the pack.

‘Christy, old man! How’s it going?”

I mumbled something about being relatively sad about having finished my work here, which appeared to be one of the funniest things he’d heard all day.

“Aha! Thank you. I needed that.”

What followed was a relatively similar conversation about the worth of Western ideals to the one we’d had with Hospice, but, you know, BTDT. Matteo arrived, and we had a just as engaging conversation about the quality of Argentinean wines versus those from Bordeaux – Pierre unrelenting in his support for the produce of his hometown. I say conversation but it wasn’t as if I added anything other than a remarkably bland question during the odd pause. It struck me that they must consider my awkwardly unsure silence vaguely enigmatic, as they seemed to sincerely enjoy my company.

“Did you know that the Chinese government – must be ‘cos they really like the stuff – just bought over a million dollars worth of wine from Bordeaux? I mean, why look further for proof of how superior it is. They could have chosen any wine but they chose ours”

“Ha. No. They bought it because it’ll retain its unwarranted high price. The stuff that you’d pay 70 euros for in Bordeaux could be bought for 12 euros in Argentina. No, really” (He added this hastily to counteract Pierre’s scoff) “the angle of the mountains is just as conducive….”

“Ok, maybe you pay a bit for name recognition. But the French chateaus are more renowned because they’re better. Personally, I favour (some incredibly niche wine producer) with (another ridiculously niche blend of grapes), you know? To me…

            And so on. Reading that back I feel like I’m doing it a disservice, because it really was quite interesting from my position as an apparently pensive observer.

 

            After a few Awayoo’s the rain picked up in intensity and we were forced inside until the end of the evening. We all had to strain to be heard over the splatter of water on sheet metal, which provided a beautifully pretentious accompaniment to the initial conversation – water off an African structure’s back and all that. The rain was so strong that the zems stopped running and I was left without a mode of transport to get home. I rattled off a couple of poorly formed ideas and looked up to see Pierre fixing Matteo with an expectant stare. Uncharacteristically begrudgingly, he suggested that I squeeze onto his aged Vespa for the ride home. It had the battered look of an ailing, but well loved, live in manservant that was on the verge of seeing off the final child of the family. It was clear that the seat wouldn’t be falling it over itself to offer enough space my rear. The metal luggage rack stared at me, impassive. “Looks like I’ll have to do, huh?” I shrugged at it, thinking what it was to be 20 and talking to the back of a moped.

            We waited under the trees as Matteo kicked repeatedly and uselessly at the ignition. Someone (not sure who, maybe me) suggested that he run alongside the machine to help it start. The garden wasn’t very big so he was forced to circle the large tree a few times. I felt a pang of compassion as the two of them went past the second time – not for the rain soaked, slightly chubby Italian – but for the vehicle that was obviously built for kinder climates and kinder loads. The comparatively strong rasps as it finally jumped into life suggested that it had accepted its impending doom and thrown all of its remaining energy into one last, glorious hurrah. Remember me for my valor and steadfastness in the face of aversion, it seemed to say. Remember my strength!

            Well, fuck, I wish it had just packed up and died there and then. What a waste of time the whole charade was. We trudged along at a laughable pace in the driving rain, having to stop every time there was a wisp of an obstacle in the way. By the time it finally broke down I was both further away from my house than I’d been at the bar and, being the unexpected passenger, the cause of death of a family heirloom.

“Um..thanks for the evening and….sorry about the Vespa. Hope it’s alright”

“Yeah, no, it’ll be fine…probably…. It was pushing it asking it to take Pierre alone…”

Uncomfortable silence.

“…I am sorry”

“No! No, it’s not your fault….”

Matteo was staring at the handlebars, head slightly lowered, rain bouncing vigorously off his increasingly visible crown. Pierre grimaced and threw me a “these things happen” look whilst he pulled his sodden pack of 20 out of his shirt pocket and tossed them in the bin. He seemed almost as dejected as Matteo.

I took the hint and bid them both farewell. Not for the first time that evening I was faced with the difficulty of getting home. It wasn’t all that far to walk, but in the rain…. Aye aye aye. Hassle.

In fact, it turned out to be quite enjoyable. The surrounding forest was beautifully lit up by the sporadic flashes of lightning, and people that I passed in the street were cast in the hazy glow of a distant streetlight. My semi drunken eyes considered the scenes somewhat poetic.

 

 

 

 

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