‘Oh Andrew!’ wailed Bardle. ‘It’s a bloody open top, it’s fucking raining!‘
‘It was more the bullets I was worried about’ said Mary, observing the wet leather of the open topped jeep. ‘It is the only one’ Andrew failed to meet either of their accusations head on. His eyes shifted restlessly around the compound, he clearly would rather be anywhere else but where he was. ‘I have done my best!’ Bardle caught sight of the anxious face, of the fear of being left behind, or exposed to extreme danger, because of this one error. Left behind for what? Exposed to what? Nobody knew and no one was staying to find out. Andrew had no reason to lie, no desire to drive into danger exposed, no choice but to do precisely that. He would not risk his best chance on a dud car. ‘All the others have already gone.’ He persisted.
‘Okay Andrew, it’ll do, let’s get on with it.’ They clambered into the wet jeep making no attempt to protect themselves against the weather. They were soaked anyway. ‘I said we’d pick up Algy at the Radio Kinjii so go there first.’ Bardle instructed. Andrew stared at him, aghast. ‘They are flattening it sir, we can’t go there!’
‘Correction’ said Mary. ‘They have flattened it. It’s quiet now.’ She patted Andrew on the shoulder, her reassurance was well meant, it reminded him that maybe, just maybe, the presence of white diplomats, including a woman, might be enough to protect him. Might be, or it might just make them a target. They were two hours late in leaving. Bardle laughed in a high pitched manner. ‘I bet the poor sod’s huddled up a tree waiting for us. He’ll be in some mood when we get to him.’ Nobody laughed, but Andrew drove the car resentfully through the streets. The rain, although still heavy was easing off and some of the normal bright light of the day was returning. Tanks and weapons lined the roads, some attended by soldiers, some not. Thankfully, no one seemed concerned by the Europeans driving past. Some of the soldiers were laughing, but few seemed overjoyed that the fighting was done. They seemed somehow wistful, uncertain, what was the nature of their success? What would it cost them? The Europeans drove on, more concerned about what this wuld cost them, than what it would cost Kinjii.
Radio Kinjii was surrounded by the tanks but it’s gates were open and out of it spilled a pile of bodies, climbing over one another. Not in an attempt to get away but facing something ahead. ‘Oh God Terry!‘ Mary covered her face. ‘There are children.‘
Terence said nothing, but scanned the ground within the courtyard for one living white face or even one dead but he could see nothing. His own terror was clear now to Andrew who, risking fire, drove nearer to the radio station. A soldier stepped out in front of them and signalled them to move on. Andrew was about to obey, his hands shaking on the wheel, his face tinged with grey. He knew their immunity was compromised. He turned the wheel and then Mary saw him. ‘Wait!’ she said and, despite himself, Andrew stopped the car. The soldier came forward angrily but Mary and Terence were out of the car. Bardle flashed a card at the soldier and said as sternly as he could to the taller man ‘Diplomatic immunity, touch him or that car and your dead!’ He indicated Andrew and the jeep. The soldier backed off, impressed by the card.
Bardle pushed past Mary and ran to the prone, light-suited body that lay on the ground face down. Blood covered most of Al Beck’s torso, his jacket was ripped to tatters. ‘Algy?’ queried Bardle as he turned the man over, looking for life. But the blue lifeless face stared back at him, its eyes open and the blood still running from the mouth. Terence stared at it, feeling for the first time a surprisingly visceral grief that he had never known before. ‘Oh Jesus! I didn’t how fond I was of him.’ All his revulsion for death and the corpses it left, was gone. He had never imagined that he could touch a dead body, not even that of a friend, but now he held the lifeless bloody head against him and felt tears of anger sting his eyes. He saw the recorder, it’s contents still in tact, flung a little distance from the body. He heard Mary say ‘Terry we must go, they’re hassling Andrew.’ In the distance, the far distance it seemed, their jeep was attracting attention, but Bardle didn’t care. ‘Didn’t you care for him Mary?’
‘Yes of course I did, very much, you know that.’ Mary’s voice still held that slightly maternal reassurance. It almost angered Terry that she was so calm, but survival told him that one of them had to be calm. ‘We have to go now Terry. We’ve got to get those hostages, we’ve got to get out!’ Bardle jarred at the seemingly selfish urgency in her voice but he remembered also how much Umtata wanted those hostages and how much he wanted them to be rebels. It would anger him good if Bardle could get them out and he had no hope of doing so if he was in Losuda. He took one more look at the dead and bloody face of Beck and knew that he could do no more. He set him gently down and hurried through his pockets. ‘Get the tape, Mary, hide it!’ Then he stood and dashed to the jeep now surrounded by soldiers again he flashed his card and abused them in Swahili. They backed off angry, but uncertain, their blood lust not high enough yet, and they let the jeep drive away.
As they moved onto the open road in the now almost clear air they listened to the voices of the dead ‘I am walking amid a crowd of people I can only describe as doomed’ said Beck.
© All rights reserved by Judith Gunn 2010