Chapter Thirty-Seven: Gaining
Chapter Thirty-Six can be found here.
As dawn came, urban, almost European Abidjan rose ahead of them, showing off its multi-story buildings, highways, modern stores, banks, and hotels. So distinct from Bobo, or Ouahigouya, or Mopti, all essentially still African cities. Paul, still half drunk and completely exhausted, and having slept for a couple of hours, only, looked at it with trepidation. This was his first trip to the coast in four years, his first view of an essentially modern city since he had left Lomé so long before. He didn’t want to be there, he realized. As soon as he could, he would have to find transport to Ghana. It didn’t matter where. He just had to get out of Abidjan. It wasn’t a town for him.
He saw that a different Africa was facing them, one far more like home, for Sam, and a sure sign that he was returning to a world he had once thought he understood or, at least, knew. Unlike Paul, who was reacting so negatively, Sam did feel relief at the sight of the tall buildings, though he now had a contrasting world clarifying them in a manner distinct from anything in his past experiences. To him, on the one hand they meant a world of regulation and regularity, where one could expect certain things to happen, and they would. A world where there was always someone who could be of assistance, if one were willing to pay, where things could be made to happen, where systems worked or were worked around. On the other hand, it was now clear to him that it was an incomplete world, only half of a picture of a world that contained poverty and strife of a sort unimagined even in the violence of his own early childhood in south central Los Angeles.
The two did not talk as the train entered the city, only looked out the window at the city as it grew around them. Any camaraderie they may have established seemed to evaporate as the urban environment began to tower over them. They gathered their belongings separately, readying to leave the train.
When the train pulled into the station, they did discuss what each should do, but dispassionately, as though analyzing sheets of data. If he could have, Paul would have liked to put Sam into a taxi and simply send him off to his hotel, and be done with him. Sam would have liked the same thing. The problem was that Sam’s ten-thousand francs from Paul were gone, so Paul would have had to give him more money to pay for the taxi, and then there was the question of repayment of that ten-thousand. Sam could get money now, he was sure, but not at the train station. He would have to go to the hotel, or to a bank. Plus, unstated but in Paul’s mind, was the idea that, having promised to get Sam here safely, he had to go the final step with him, like it or not.
So, neither wanted it, each felt forced to agree to go to the hotel with the other. Beyond their growing wariness of each other, Sam, with his long experience of fine hotels, knew he would be judged by the hotel staff, and that he would be judged poorly just for bringing in Paul in the door. And Paul, who had stepped into a fancy hotel only once or twice over the past four years, had absolutely no interest in invading that environment, one where, he knew, he wasn’t really welcome. But he needed the money Sam owed him and felt he had to finish the job, so decided to go.
The Abidjan they rode through as they left the station and headed for the hotel was even less African, Paul noticed as he stared out at the streets, than Lomé had been when he arrived there four years before and had taken that taxi into town with El. In the area they passed through, at least, there were none of the crowds, none of the over-loaded shops. More of the people were white, and many more of the cars were in good repair. In all, it was quieter and, to Paul, disappointing. As he watched, he realized that, even more than earlier, he wanted to get his money and get going. Not just to be away from Sam, but from Abidjan itself—from the modern urbanity it represented. From the world that he had, he told himself, left behind.
The hotel was one of the fanciest of the city, an imposing affair of an international French chain. Paul didn’t walk to the desk with Sam, but loitered by the door, not wanting to impose further, and recognizing that he would be no help to Sam, certainly not looking as he did, in this environment. If he could have, he would have stayed outside, but he would have been even more conspicuous there, standing alone except for the doormen.
Sam, relieved, left him and walked up to the desk clerk.
“Do you speak English.”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“I believe I have a reservation for one night. Tonight. My name’s Sam Boudy. I’m flying out tomorrow, so will also need transport to the airport.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Boudy. We did have a reservation for you, for last night and tonight. You had indicated that you would be coming from Mali, so we held it for you, even though you weren’t here, given the war.”
Sam didn’t believe that, but supposed they must have lots of empty rooms and wanted to impress him. He was back in a world he understood, and could see behind the words.
“How will you be paying for the room?”
Sam slid over his passport and a credit card. “I also need to get a cash advance. Can you arrange that for me?”
“Certainly, sir. How much will you need?”
“Why don’t you give me the equivalent of two-hundred dollars, in local currency.”
“Yes, sir. Franc CFA. Will you want that money now?”
Sam felt both relief and satisfaction as the clerk deftly manipulated his credit-card machine, handed him a receipt to sign, and slid the money over to him before turning to call a bellhop to show him up to his room.
“Wait just a moment, please.” He handed his pack to the bellhop and walked over to where Paul was waiting.
“Look, Paul, I don’t know how to thank you adequately. But, if you need anything, any time you are back in the States, look me up.” He handed Paul his business card and a ten-thousand franc note. To Paul, this was a new Sam, someone in command, comfortable and in control of his environment. He felt what almost amounted to a pang of jealousy. “I know you aren’t likely to be there soon, but keep the offer, for if you ever need it.” Sam also was seeing a new Paul, or an old one, the man he had first seen sitting with a beer in his hand that morning in Mopti, that disreputable outcast. He felt that he needed to get over this goodbye quickly, to get to his room, a hot bath, and bed. But he had an obligation to Paul, and wanted to make sure he acted correctly toward him.
“Thanks, and you’re welcome.” Paul thrust the money and the card into the pocket of his jeans. “Look, it’s time I get going. And I am sure you are tired. Anyhow, we got through it.” He held out his hand.
Sam took it, and shook it briefly, then turned and walked away, followed by the bellhop.
As he reached the door, Paul looked over at the newsstand. The headline on the papers all trumpeted a ceasefire between Mali and Burkina Faso. He shrugged; it didn’t matter anymore. Not to him, at least, and it certainly wouldn’t matter to Sam.
Their paths would contain no further convergence, no matter what the future might bring. Paul turned and watched Sam’s back as he disappeared into the elevator, wondering why he was hesitating. He turned, then, and walked out of the hotel to the taxi stand, dropping Sam’s business card into a trash can by the door.
“Take me,” he told the driver, “to somewhere I can get a bus or a taxi going to Ghana.” The driver, who had examined him carefully, nodded. The destination made sense for someone looking like Paul.
Who did not look back as they pulled away from the hotel.
Chapter Thirty-Eight can be found here.