by the governor

I pass Mutamba, and climb the small hill home and when I am nearly at the top, panting gently, I notice an old man. An old man of slow motion. He is bending over several shopping bags. They are all black. Eight or nine or ten black shopping bags. Plastic bags full of things. I see blue plastic bottles sticking out of the top. He is bending over the bags, with great sadness. He is looking at them very mournfully, exhausted, as if they were a large group of children for whom he has to care, but no longer has the energy for. Should he abandon them to their fate on the street, or take them home? What will they do to him when they know he is weakening? Will they start to attack him, like dogs, when the old leader becomes ill, and the rest of the pack slowly start to turn and eventually, one day soon, bite him to death? As I approach, he is pushing the fingers of his left hand through the open handles of two of the bags. He is concentrating very hard. He is staring at the bags. Staring at his hand, alarmed by his own fingers – like thick brown worms that are weaving through the black bags. I slow as I pass him, wanting to stop, wanting to ask him how he went mad. Was it in the war, or is he just a mad man like the mad men we have in London? Someone asked me here, Are there mad men in your country too? And was so surprised when I said, Yes, we too have madmen. I pass him, and turn and watch. He is pulling his left hand away from the handle through which he had earlier pushed his fingers. He is looking at other bags now, a small group of three that I had not noticed before, and seems confused and upset that he has to be burdened by all these bags, that he has to take them everywhere, that they are so dependent on him. His eyes are wide and watery, his body drops a little lower with every breath and every thought. The bags are small and dependent and screaming with demands of him. He must not abandon them. And I remember, now, as I write, that I have seen this man before. And each time I have seen him, he has been standing at a junction, or near a kerb, surrounded by his bags, bending over his bags. They are all around him, hassling him, calling him, slowly suffocating him. He cannot escape his bags. Full of empty bottles of blue plastic that once were full of expensive mineral water. Whose lips have drunk from his bottles? Where are they now, in their plot on the island? He stands over his flock of black plastic bags, each waiting for him to put his hand through it and sweep it into the air but he cannot decide which to take up first. He must make that decision. He can’t remain here, by the Provincial Governor of Luanda’s beautiful pink buildings. He must move on. What is he thinking? I only want to sit down and talk to him. I like the mad people here. With them, I am sure, one can speak about normal things, to talk a little of feeling maddened by all the wealth, all the buildings, all the Hummers.

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