Authors: Sally Grindley
Tags: #Hewer Text UK Ltd http://www.hewertext.com
Also by Sally Grindley
Bloomsbury Publishing, London, Berlin and New York
First published in Great Britain in June 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
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This electronic edition published in 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Text copyright © Sally Grindley 2010
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A CIP catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 4088 1169 6
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‘Did you ever kill anyone?’
The question flew like a bullet through the tense dark of the night and hit Pascal hard in the chest. He had thought Kojo was asleep. Hadn’t he heard and been surprised by the stillness of his friend not so very long ago? Now the silence was shot into tiny fragments by the blast of those five words.
‘Did you? Did you ever kill anyone?’
‘What’s it to you?’
‘Just wondered. Just wondered what it feels like.’
‘Maybe I don’t want to talk about it.’ Pascal turned over on to his other side, so that he was facing away from Kojo. The wooden pallet was hard underneath his shoulder. He put his hand over the place where the jagged, lumpy scar from an old knife wound rubbed uncomfortably against the planks.
‘You talk in your sleep sometimes,’ Kojo persisted.
‘You fart in your sleep,’ Pascal countered. ‘Like a machine gun –
He waited for the retort, but it didn’t come. Instead, he heard his friend scramble to his feet and pad over to the barred window. He was used to Kojo’s restlessness. He was used to the nightly conversations, though he hadn’t been prepared for tonight’s question. He should have been prepared. It was such an obvious question to ask someone if you weren’t emotionally involved with the answer.
Neither of the boys ever slept well, regardless of how hard they worked during the day, regardless of the long hours they spent toiling under the baking sun.
of them slept well, for there were ten other boys sharing the decrepit outhouse that passed as their home. It was hot and filthy and airless. Besides, there were too many ghosts lurking in the dead of the night, ready to ambush them the minute they were off their guard.
‘Sometimes I think I’ll see my mother again soon,’ said Kojo quietly. ‘Sometimes I think I’ll be walking along a path and she’ll appear in front of me. Or she’ll turn up at the plantation and tell me it’s time I came home because my food’s getting cold. Do you ever think that?’
Pascal didn’t answer. There was no need. His friend wasn’t expecting an answer this time, especially if it was an answer urging him to abandon his fool’s dreams.
‘I don’t know what I’d do if I did see her. I probably wouldn’t believe it was her at first, and then I’d want to throw myself into her arms. But I’d probably pass out from the shock instead.’
‘You’re such a girl, you probably would pass out,’ Pascal mocked. ‘Then your poor mother would weep over you, thinking you had died of fright.’
‘If I could just find out that she’s all right,’ said Kojo. ‘And my brother and Papa. I keep thinking that Papa might have a new job and that it would be fine for me to go home. But he wasn’t well enough.’
Silence filled the room again.
Pascal closed his eyes and tried to picture his own mother’s face – not the face she had worn the last time he saw her alive, but the one that belonged to happier days. It eluded him, as it so often did, languishing in the murky shadows beyond his grasp. Next, he scoured his memory for his father and his elder sister, Angeline. They drifted towards him, fading in and out of focus. At the point when he could almost make out the details of their faces, they were blown away by a sudden flash of bright light and a deafening explosion. Seconds later, Angeline reappeared, beckoned at him to follow her, then disappeared once more.
‘If I made a ton of money, I’d send it all to my family so that they could buy things again and then I’d be able to go home. That’s what I’d do, and nobody would be able to stop me,’ Kojo said.
‘How are you going to make a ton of money when most of the time they don’t bother to pay us?’
‘I’m not staying here for ever. One day I’m going to be a doctor, then they’ll pay me proper money.’
‘Oh yeah, and one day I’m going to build me a plane and fly me back home. How are you going to be a doctor when you don’t even go to school?’
‘I’m going back to school. One day. When I run away from here.’
‘They’ll beat you if you try to run away.’
‘They won’t catch me. I’ll be too quick for them.’
‘Huh! A snail could run faster than you.’
‘Why do you always have to stamp all over my dreams?’
Pascal felt a stab of guilt. Why couldn’t he just let his friend believe what he wanted to believe? What did he have to gain by bringing him down to earth every time?
‘Because dreams make what’s real seem even worse, that’s why,’ he said at last.
‘You can’t live without dreams,’ said Kojo.
‘Yes, I can,’ Pascal sighed.
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Believe what you like.’
‘I bet you hope just as much as I do.’
‘I’ll tell you what I hope. I hope you’ll shut up for five minutes so that I can get some sleep,’ Pascal snapped.
‘I don’t see why
should sleep when you keep me awake with your talking,’ Kojo said sulkily.
Pascal growled through his teeth. His irritation threatened to unleash itself on his friend. ‘If I talk in my sleep I can’t help it,’ he hissed. ‘You talk when you’re awake and I’m trying to sleep – yack, yack, yack, blah, blah, blah – and you can help it, but you don’t because you’re a selfish heap of dung. Now shut up, or else.’
There was a long silence between them, broken only by the shuffling of Kojo’s feet as he found his way back to bed.
And then, just as Pascal closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax, he heard Kojo mutter, ‘You wait. If I do find a way to get out of here, I’m not going to take you with me. No way.’
Pascal sat in the front seat of an abandoned car on the outskirts of his village.
‘Where are we going, then, driver?’ asked Olivier.
Pascal thought for a moment. ‘Kissidougou,’ he said.
‘Yeah, Kissidougou,’ yelled Bobo from the back seat.
‘Nah, I want to go to Conakry,’ Kamil argued, leaning forward over Pascal’s shoulder.
‘No way,’ said Pascal. ‘It’s too far.’
‘You gonna pay for the petrol, Kamil?’ sniggered Olivier.
‘Let’s go, let’s go,’ said Bobo.
‘Kissidougou’s boring,’ grumbled Kamil.
Pascal pretended to turn a key in the ignition. As one, all four boys started to make engine noises and bounce up and down in their seats. When Pascal leant to the right, the others leant to the right. When he leant to the left, the others followed suit.
‘Hold on,’ he said. ‘Pothole coming up.’
They held on to the rusty doorframes, and when Pascal counted ‘One, two, three’, they leapt in the air and landed with a universal ‘Aw, that was a big one!’
‘My turn to drive now,’ said Kamil.
‘But we’ve only just set off,’ protested Pascal. ‘I’ve only been driver for two seconds.’
‘You’re driving like a tortoise,’ said Kamil. ‘You’re in the back now.’ He had already left his seat and was standing by Pascal’s side, pulling at Pascal’s T-shirt to make him move.
Pascal didn’t want to move. He wanted to be the one to decide if there were potholes in the road, or cows to be avoided, or hens to be driven at.
‘Move, will you?’ insisted Kamil.
Pascal looked at him sullenly, but slid off the seat and let him take the wheel. He stood by the side of the car.
‘Hold on tight, everyone,’ Kamil yelled. ‘We’re off to Conakry and we’re not hanging about.’
‘Jump in, Pascal. You don’t want to walk, do you?’ laughed Olivier.
‘I think he’s sulking,’ piped up Bobo.
‘I’m not sulking,’ retorted Pascal.
‘We’re on our way,’ cried Kamil. ‘I’ve got the accelerator all the way to the bottom.’
The three boys began making engine noises again, twice as loudly as before, and bumped up and down so hard that the car shook and rattled on its wheel-less axles.
‘Bye-bye, Pascal.’ Olivier grinned and waved.
‘Don’t blame me if you run out of petrol,’ Pascal said, sniffing loudly as he sloped away.
He was hoping his cousins would beg him to come back, to hear them say that he could be the driver again. They didn’t, though. They carried on as if it didn’t matter that he was no longer there with them.
‘Who cares?’ Pascal said out loud, kicking at a stone that lay on the path in front of him and losing his sandal in the process.
All of a sudden, the day had stopped being fun. It had begun with school, and Pascal liked school, as long as he didn’t have to stand up in front of everybody and answer questions. He liked to sit at the back, by the window, where it wasn’t such a crush, and where he could look out across the fields whenever lessons dragged on. Mostly, that was when the subject was English. He struggled so hard with English, and he didn’t see the point of it. Surely one language was enough to get by with, and he was never likely to meet an Englishman. Or an American. Or an Australian. And if he did, he wouldn’t talk to them. It was bad enough in class, when his teacher asked him to say a word in English out loud. The sniggers always sounded worse when he said something than when anyone else had a go. Yet his parents kept telling him how important it was for him to master such an important subject and that it would help him to get a good job. They couldn’t speak English themselves, apart from ‘hello’ and ‘please’, but they told him that the world was changing fast and that a good command of English was one of the secrets of success.
There hadn’t been an English lesson that day. Pascal had been able to enjoy two of his favourite lessons, maths and science, as well as helping in the school garden and learning manual skills. If anyone ever asked what he dreamt of being when he was older, his reply was that he wanted to use his hands, perhaps as a builder, or even an engineer, though he didn’t really understand what engineers did. He knew that he wasn’t going to be an office worker or a teacher, and he hated the thought of working at the diamond mines like his father, even though his father was a manager and Pascal was proud of him.
After school, Pascal and his cousins, with a number of their friends, had played football on the makeshift pitch behind the school building. He wasn’t particularly good at football, but his father had bought him a Barcelona shirt two years earlier and Pascal still wore it, even though it was too small. He was wearing it that day, hoping as usual that some of Rivaldo’s brilliance would rub off on him, so that everyone would want him on their side, rather than pushing him out on to the wing and then ignoring him. For once it worked. The ball accidentally found him, stuck to his feet as he dribbled over the rutted ground, and flew from his foot right between the two wooden sticks that marked out the goal.