The idea had come to him on a day of fever and paperwork—in his profession they went hand in hand—and the more Appiah thought about it, the better sense it made: He would marry her. Every year, he and Solomon took a week of their annual leave in Ruhengeri, staying at a hotel on the edge of town where the night manager worked. They’d decided early on that its bungalow-style rooms and proximity to the national park justified the price, and stuck with it even as the hotel began to resemble the shoestring establishments that cluttered the highway. They knew and liked the staff. The head waiter greeted them as friends and the night manager teased Appiah quite shamelessly. Next time you will marry me, she would say, and when they returned the next time Appiah would explain, straight-faced, that he’d received the blessing of his first wife but that the second was holding out. They would laugh together at his joke (he was a bachelor and a Christian), and she would touch his arm, and Solomon would give him that look. The night manager insisted on calling Appiah “doctor.” All of her employees did. He enjoyed that. She was tall and scarred, near to middle age like him. He could guess the origins of the shiny keloids that stretched from her lopsided mouth to truncated ear, and it was to the scars that he attributed her boldness. She would accept his proposal, of that he was sure. He imagined her wild and embarrassing effusions as he stood now on the terrace of the hotel bar, alone.
A new waiter led him to his table. He was a boy of about twenty, long and lean and light-skinned, like the night manager. The uniform was new, too, a green satin waistcoat and bow tie worn over a shirt that looked fresh from the package.
Appiah ordered a juice. The waiter returned with his drink and stood chatting for a long time. He introduced himself as Justus. They talked about the volcano Appiah planned to climb tomorrow, and about the rain, speculating whether it would hold for another day. The waiter had been on the job for three months. “The salary is very small,” he said, too loudly, “but the customers, they are very good.”
“Where is Madame Agathe?” said Appiah, interrupting.
“She is gone, just this week.”
“Oh? When is she coming?”
The waiter hesitated. A man and a white woman had sat down on the other side of the terrace. He apologized and excused himself. Clapping his hands together and opening his arms, he cried, “My friends!” The woman looked happy to see him.
Appiah left a small tip and went to bed early.
He opened the door in the predawn dark to receive an old man with shining jowls and a brassy cough. “Doctor,” the man said. For a moment Appiah thought the man was ill. His shirt was open, baring a herniated navel, and from his arms hung pails of shivering water. The porter smiled, handed them over, and, as he crossed the parking lot, spat into a rose bush. Appiah closed the door. He sat the buckets next to the bathtub and undressed. Steam drifted from the wagging ovals of water. He took care not to linger in the cold morning air; being around so much disease had made him a little superstitious about his own health. He washed and dried himself quickly and pulled on his warmest clothes.
The national park was a gloomy, romantic place, black earthed and loomed over by incisor-shaped peaks, not much visited by the sun. He set out after dawn with a guide and two soldiers supplied by the park authority for protection. They climbed the foot of Mount Bisoke under heavy cloud. Appiah thought he knew the younger soldier, who was pretty in the lean, insolent way that Tutsi men could be, but the soldier ignored him, falling back as the path narrowed and remaining out of sight for half an hour at a time. Only the occasional chirp of the soldiers’ radios gave away their presence. The hike had gone ahead at Appiah’s urging—the upper slope would be glutted—and he remained intent on the summit even as it began to rain again. No one seemed to mind at first. But as they struggled through carpets of mud, the soldiers’ frustration became obvious. Distracted, Appiah slipped and fell. The younger soldier marched past him, surmounting the roots of a massive tree before turning to wait with the guide.
“My lace is undone,” said Appiah, untying and retying it.
The rain thinned and their pace steadied. As they climbed higher Appiah could make out the lashwork of planting terraces that covered the valley walls, ribbons of black against green, silver where pyrethrum grew. Briefly the clouds parted and sunlight fell in pale beams on the villages below. Appiah was reminded of a scene from the picture Bible he’d cherished as a boy.
It was on their first trip together, on a day like this one, years ago, that Solomon had talked him into seeing the gorillas. Their group had trekked for hours around the belly of another volcano, trespassing on farmers’ fields and clambering through bamboo forest, attentive to every rustle and glimmer. Overdressed for the cold, Solomon radiated anxious cheer. He made jokes and mopped his face with his jacket sleeves, which, sodden with rain and sweat, soon hung longer than his arms. It was hard work.
They had found the silverback seated like an idol in high grass, its head huge and stony, the face small and finely wrought, the work of a demented artisan. The ranger grunted at the animal and they edged toward it, Solomon and the white-haired American lady and her grown-up daughter, the German couple and the Asian man with the metal walking sticks. Only Appiah stood apart. Can we get closer? someone asked, and the ranger obliged, squat-walking them nearer the animal. The silverback gave them a sidelong glance and yawned widely, revealing yellow fangs and bright gums. Come on, Solomon whispered. He flapped a sleeve without looking back, like Appiah’s mother used to do when he dawdled in the market. It was all very foolish. The others kneeled in the grass, their heads bowed, fingers working the buttons on their cameras. Solomon coaxed Appiah into position for a photo. The ranger counted down from three, and the flash went off. Appiah heard the animal before he saw it—he turned and scrambled backward and fell. The silverback pulled up short, sniffed, and loped away. This is not okay! the daughter was saying. The ranger shrugged and put a finger to his lips. I’m fine, the old woman was insisting, I’m fine. Appiah looked up and saw his friend. The worry on Solomon’s face was already dissolving into a grin.
Where, Appiah wondered, as he watched the soldiers trudge ahead into the trees, was his friend now, at this exact moment? A recurring thought. He imagined Solomon at home in Lagos with his wife, eating her meals, sleeping in her bed. Repeating the latest hospital gossip to make her laugh. Always with that same amused, conspiratorial look on his face, a look that revealed everything and nothing.
Appiah, the guide, and the two soldiers reached the summit at midday. Appiah sat with the guide on a bench overlooking the crater lake. Forest grew thick on the shore, and vapor skimmed the cobalt water. The Congolese border cut the lake in half, an invisible wall that kept the chaos at bay. They ate packed lunches while the younger soldier watched them and smoked. He was too familiar. “Ask if he knows me,” Appiah said.
The guide hesitated.
The soldier called out: “I do not know you.”
“He does not know you,” the guide repeated.
“No? Anyway, you must be hungry.” Appiah smiled and offered the extra parcel of fruit and chicken that had been packed for him.
The younger soldier said something to the guide. The other soldier laughed. The guide laughed, too, uncertain about his allegiance. “They cannot accept,” he said.
“He say they do not eat strange fruit.”
Appiah stared out at the lake. His thoughts traveled across the border and beyond the far shore, over the 300-mile sweep of jungle, beyond the ruined villages whose outlines tattooed the earth, and into the IDP camp, with its infernal heat and eternal routines, which begrudged thought, remorse, feeling of any kind. There was a kind of freedom in the work he did.
“You would not believe it,” Justus, the waiter, was saying. “She tried to pull monsieur’s hair and the policeman grabbed her.” His audience was the same woman and man from the night before, seated at the same table. The lamps were lit and the tables glowed red against the blue evening. Appiah sat down unobserved and pretended to check his phone for messages.
“She was shouting Interahamwe as the man was dragging her away!” the waiter said.
The white woman leaned forward in her seat, mouth empalmed. The man looked bored. Empty beer glasses had been pushed into a semicircle at the center of which an ashtray smoldered. Appiah had mistaken them for tourists, a black American and his obruni wife. He could see now that they were regulars: scientists, maybe, or aid workers.
“It is a crime, you know. To use that word without evidence. More serious than to be stealing some francs.”
“A silly law and a silly woman,” the man said disagreeably.
The woman sat back in her chair. “Well, I feel badly for her.”
“Yes, it is terrible,” the waiter agreed, too quickly.
“The worst part is that she could’ve asked me for help,” the woman said. “I like to think we were friends.”
The man sucked his teeth and shook his head. “What good would it do? The lady has no shame.” He swallowed the last of his beer and drumrolled the table. “Another,” he said to the waiter, who pretended not to hear.
“Come on. A little sympathy, please!” the woman said.
“You know, they say she killed her own child to save herself,” said the man. “Of course, they also say the husband was a pygmy. There are too many storytellers in this place.”
“A pygmy! Can you imagine?” the waiter said, grinning.
“I don’t believe any of it,” replied the woman, angry now. She was forty, older, too old, anyway, to dress like the new doctors who showed up at Appiah’s office every few months: sloppy clothing, carelessly tied hair. She removed an earring. It was in the details that you could tell how old an obruni was: the hang of an earlobe, the freckled furrows of a throat, the way the hair frayed and coarsened. A stripe of very white flesh, the ghost of a watch, circled the woman’s wrist. A slipper danced on the tip of her foot. The toes were dirty and callused like a peasant’s.
“Anyway,” said the waiter, recovering himself, “I am very sorry for her.” His eyes shone with sudden sorrow. The woman rubbed his shoulder. The man looked away.
Suddenly the waiter recognized Appiah. “Doctor! How was your hiking? I hope the day was very fine.”
“Thank you. Wet,” said Appiah. His legs and back ached. The climb down had been a two-hour spill through mud and mist. “Excuse me, you were talking about the manager. Madame Agathe. May I ask what happened?”
“You know her?” said the woman.
“I know her a little,” said Appiah.
“Why don’t you join us? I’m Connie. This is my colleague Peter, and you seem to know Justus already.”
Justus did most of the telling. He seemed to relish the scandal. The night manager had been overcharging for rooms and pocketing the difference. She paid the head waiter for his silence. Both were sacked. When she tried to leave the hotel with her belongings, the owner barred her from her room. She returned with the police only to be dragged away, wailing and empty-handed. Everyone agreed that the owner—a friendly Belgian who liked to greet the guests at their tables, his face, as Appiah remembered it, hawklike and sprigged with silver—should not have brought charges.
“Where is she now?” he asked. “I would like to see that she is fine.”
“Until the trial she is staying at the women’s prison in Gisenyi,” said Peter.
“Do they accept visitors?”
“I will take you!” said Justus.
“Thank you. I will think about it. I have to meet a friend,” Appiah lied.
“Mr. Solomon?” the waiter asked.
Startled, Appiah lied again: “Yes. Mr. Solomon.”
The photo still occupied pride of place on his phone’s lock screen. When Appiah looked at it he could recall the squeak of blood in his ears, and the treetops stabbing sky, and Solomon, his hand outstretched. Exhausted after the trek, they had slouched on hammocks in the hotel courtyard and passed the camera back and forth, teasing each other about who had been the first to run, who had knocked over the old woman. Look at this one! Solomon had exclaimed. In the photo they stood side by side, one man’s shoulder at the other’s elbow, their hands bunched into fists against mud-brindled trousers. Solomon’s eyes were squeezed shut while Appiah smiled at the camera. The shock of the charge had not yet registered on his face. Over his shoulder the gorilla was a blur of fang and fur.
Mademoiselle, Solomon called out, look here, look at this.
The night manager abandoned the table she was pretending to wipe, dropped her rag on an empty chair, and wandered over. Solomon squared a hand around the viewfinder so she could see.
Oh God! she said, grasping the camera as if to steady herself.
This is a brave man, said Solomon. The mzungu are making themselves very small, but he does not fear the gorilla.
Monsieur Appiah, you could have been eaten, she said.
Solomon made a point of teasing her with stories of Appiah’s heroism, and the photo had been the first proof of his valor. He told her that Appiah worked as a trauma surgeon (he was the unit administrator), had survived crocodile and rocket attacks (he had experienced neither), fathered a mzungu child (ridiculous), and graduated Oxford with first-class honors (he attended Oxford Brookes—the honors part was true). Whether the night manager believed any of it was, according to Solomon, beside the point, because clearly it had been love at first sight. She adores you, he insisted, and a lady like that—here Solomon pretended to lose himself in a vision of her—she is wild. She will make a man like you very happy. I would marry her myself, but I am a husband and a father and a good Christian.
Solomon was the trauma surgeon, younger than Appiah by two years, a veteran of assignments all over the continent. He was always seeing how far he could take a joke, how outrageous he could be, and when Appiah protested that he was being too harsh, Solomon would say they had earned the right to jest about terrible things, and he would improvise more jokes, each worse than the last, until they fell into each other’s arms, laughing too hard. That was how it usually began, on those early trips together: Always they had needed some pretext to touch.
And what about you? the night manager asked Solomon. Are you brave? She flicked past the gorilla photo and boldly continued to look: Solomon and Appiah at the airport; Solomon and Appiah grinning in front of the hotel; Appiah in the market, tall and serious, shaking hands with a tailor; Solomon holding up the shirt in question, pretending to be shocked by the price. He claimed to be fluent in Kiswahili and usually insisted on speaking for them both. He was pudgy and undignified, his good looks spoiled by too much cassava, but Appiah was charmed by his protective, almost possessive air, and the helpless grin with which he rewarded taxi drivers and shopkeepers for even the slightest nod of comprehension.
Solomon was a Pentecostal, born again. He talked about his younger self as of a younger, wilder brother: indulgently. As an undergraduate, the son of one of Babangida’s personal physicians, he’d lived prodigally. He neglected his studies and drank heavily, even guzzling airplane fuel with his friends. There were many women in those days. In his third year of school he married and decided to pursue a medical degree. Now, he liked to say, as he twisted the hair on Appiah’s chest, or playfully squeezed a buttock, I am serious. He took no meat and ate fish on Fridays. He praised the virtues of matrimony and vigorous exercise. That he rarely saw his family back in Nigeria, or that his shirts stretched over his belly like foil over a sweet, seemed to trouble him not at all.
Appiah preferred to talk about the distant past. One of the games he and Solomon played during those languid moments on holiday together was to match up their early memories. Appiah would conjure an incident and try to locate it in time, as when he was apprenticed to his uncle, his father’s brother, for an entire school holiday. That year—it would have been the holiday after third form—the widow of a local chief commissioned his uncle to build her husband’s coffin. From the trunk of a mahogany tree they carved an elaborate casket in the shape of a fish. It was a month’s work. As a reward when the job was nearly finished, Appiah was entrusted with etching the scales along the underside of the tail. He tried to describe to Solomon the happiness he had felt, then, working the chisel over the wood, enwombed in the silence of his uncle’s companionship, and the mixture of pride and disappointment that overcame him later, when the tiny old man was laid in the enormous fish, a coin placed on his forehead and a cigarette in his lips, and the fish was nailed shut forever. So that is death, he remembered thinking at the time.
Solomon, who took childish pride in his early delinquency, usually shrugged at Appiah’s stories and said that at that exact moment he was probably being scolded for some small crime or other, but this one seemed to move him. You could have become a surgeon, he offered, gently. You have the hands for it. Of course, Solomon had tender memories, too: as a very small child, of being scrubbed and oiled and put to bed by his grandmother when the sun was still bright; as a boy, when his father retired, of being allowed to open his doctor’s bag and choose one item for himself. He chose the stethoscope. That night and for many nights after, Solomon fell asleep listening to the ocean sound of his own lungs. After the stethoscope story, Appiah made the mistake of asking Solomon whether they would have been friends as boys. Impossible, he said. I was too crazy! But if you were a girl I think I would have loved you.
That was the closest they would ever come to acknowledging the thing that existed between them.
Solomon took the camera from the night manager and scrolled until he found the image he wanted. Oh I am brave, too, he said, and handed it back. There she was, eyes half-closed, crooked mouth agape, teeth bared as she reached out in protest at the lens. A snapshot from the previous night.
The night manager shrieked.
You see! Watch out, he said. This lady needs a strong man, stronger even than me. A man like Carolus Appiah!
The night manager shrieked again, delighted, and Solomon gave him the look. But Appiah, ill at ease with the joke that was developing between them at the night manager’s expense, did not reciprocate.
Had it been at her expense, or his?
He spotted Justus outside the hotel after breakfast. Without his uniform he looked younger, slyer. He wore baggy trousers and a blue-and-black-striped jersey that read pirelli across the front. Appiah saw that he had already hired a taxi.
“Can we go?” Justus asked.
The boy’s presumption annoyed and intrigued him. “Okay,” Appiah said, finally. “We will go.”
They drove southwest towards Gisenyi on another lightless afternoon. Clouds wreathed the hilltops and tall conifers lined the switchbacks. They passed a chain gang burying fiber-optic cable by the roadside. The prisoners wore cheerful jumpsuits—orange for the genocideurs, pink for those awaiting trial. Appiah was used to scenes like this, and to the roadside memorials, and to the signs everywhere that prohibited littering, speeding, the riding of motorcycles without helmets. Rwanda was an orderly place. The absence of chaos—of either the genial disorder of Accra, where he grew up, or the lurching desperation of the Congo, where he worked—was one of its early attractions. The calm had made Solomon uneasy. These people, his friend said on their third or fourth visit, having grown impatient with Rwanda and the Rwandese, they make me nervous. I do not trust quiet. Appiah had thought with panic that Solomon was talking in some obscure way abouthim. You Nigerians, he had replied, too harshly. All that you understand is palaver.
Justus looked up from his phone at a string of huts. “These are all Hutu villages now,” he said. So he was a child of the massacres. Appiah wondered how many of his people were lost, buried in these hills in unmarked, unyarded graves. The situation in Kivu was not so different. When he thought about the night manager he felt foolish and sorry. About her role in the scam there could be little doubt. Now that events beyond his control had absolved him of the marriage proposal, he could see how ridiculous his idea had been. What would a woman like her, even one whose prospects were so limited, want with someone like him? Or he with her? Still, if what the obruni woman’s colleague said about her child was true, well, that was her cross to bear and Appiah could imagine its terrible weight. He would make certain she was fine. If she needed money for a lawyer, he would help. He could give her the ring to sell and she could repay the money she had stolen. Perhaps they would let her go. The ring! It amazed him that his big idea could be abandoned so easily. He wanted to feel sorrier for her than he did. But the force of her personality was something to behold. Solomon called her “fierce,” and the word seemed to fit. They had watched her boldly eject a group of drunken tourists—when one of the men grabbed her arm, she responded with a hard slap—and it was she among the hotel staff who insisted on payment when the chief of the local gendarmes stopped by for a meal. He obliged her with a terrifying smile. Appiah could make sense, now, of the smaller indignities he had witnessed when the locals came to eat: the refusals to acknowledge her and the comments such as the ones made by the man, Paul, last night. Appiah thought that if he could remember her face, he would find it beautiful. He recalled the scars, the voluptuous, carmine scars, the long arm at her hip, the neck that arched like a goose’s. Agathe. But the rest of her would not come.
The women’s prison was a short walk from the taxi park. In sudden sunshine, Appiah and Justus descended the hill toward the lake. The boy remained intent on his phone. “Oh, this one is good,” he said, smiling to himself.
Appiah indulged him. “What is good?”
“It is nothing, just something very nice.”
Justus handed him the phone. The text message read: what r u doing sexyboy?
“It is from the most beautiful girl in Kigali.”
“How do you know she is the most beautiful?”
“Because I know them all,” he grinned.
They reached the boardwalk. Some girls sat in the shade of an acacia tree, their skirts drawn tight around their knees, their hands fussing at the hems, their eyes on the football match underway down the beach. Among them was a scabby, stoop-shouldered girl. Feeling equal to the boy’s good humor, Appiah decided to take a chance: “Beautiful like that one?”
Justus grinned again. “Almost.”
“What about her friend, the girl in the red jumper?” She was the bony girl’s opposite: slab-legged, slab-chested, round-faced.
“She is a vision!”
“And that one?” said Appiah, indicating a dark, glamorous girl with straightened, shoulder-length hair.
Justus, suddenly grave, said, “You must be serious now. I could never be with a girl like that. I could never be with any of them.”
“You must be serious now.”
“But you must have friends who—”
“Of course, and they are my very good friends. But I could never trust them. Never. To you—Hutu, Tutsi, what is the difference. But I know what I am, and I could not. Never.”
They sat for awhile and watched the footballers push the ball through the shallows, the spray exaggerating the violence of every kick and tackle. They seemed to relish the effect and go out of their way to dribble the ball into the lake. Beyond them, a lone boat followed the curve of the shoreline.
Justus rose and dusted off his trousers. “Okay. Those girls, these boys. We are surrounded.”
They walked until they reached the chain-link fence that partitioned the beach and doubled as the goal. Getting around it meant returning to the boardwalk or soaking their shoes. They stood for a moment, indecisive.
“You step on that rock and hold on,” said one of the football players, in French. He was bare-chested and baby-faced, no older than sixteen. “There,” he added in English, pointing.
Justus crossed and Appiah followed too quickly, slipping. He clutched the fence and swung himself around, landing on the other side with his feet still dry. The footballer said, “Cinq cent francs, s’il vous plaît.”
“For what?” said Appiah, lightly.
“Il est fou,” said Justus, hostile now.
“It is you who are crazy!” the boy repeated in English, and, laughing, threw himself backward into the lake.
“One day,” said Justus, “I will leave this place forever.”
They were turned away at the prison gates, told that without an appointment they would have to come back the following morning. They hired a taxi and went to a restaurant Justus knew on the other side of town, where he was greeted by the owner with a friendly slap on the back, and where he slipped a little too easily into the role of top boy. Appiah understood that he wouldn’t be the first—or last—tourist delivered to the restaurant. He allowed Justus to lead him by the shoulder into the courtyard, ahead of the waiter. It was a small, cloistered space with a gravel floor and wood tables. The walls were painted with murals of the Coliseum, the Italian flag, and an American actor whose name Appiah could not remember. The actor pointed a large gun at some unseen enemy.
Justus addressed the waiter. “Boy,” he said, drumrolling the table, “menu.”
Knowing they would never see each other again, Appiah encouraged him to order a big meal, anything he wanted. They ate spaghetti and two plates of fish: proof either that the boy’s presumption did in fact have limits, or depressingly, that he could not imagine a meal more lavish. The boy drank Fanta, and Appiah drank beer. They talked about football, women, Kagame.
“When the killing happened,” Justus said, unbidden and with an air of theatrical sincerity, “my mother was taking me to boarding school. It was not far from here, about one hour away. We were separated from my father and my sisters and brother. It was very terrible. There was too much killing. We walked for a very long time, only in the morning, before the sun was bright. We hid in churches and in places where we could find dead bodies. No one—”
His phone rang, and with an annoyed look he stepped away from the table. “Of course, darling,” he said, his voice softening. “No, no, you can’t, no, not tonight. You know this is business. I cannot talk.”
Justus held up an apologetic finger, and began to pace. Appiah watched him. The yellow eyes, the overbite, the long, elegant face: He saw no cunning, no sadness in it. Only the innocence of a boy of twenty whose goodness had been displaced by need without his ever noticing.
“Yes, yes, I love you, too,” he was saying when finally he returned to the table. “I think about you, too. I love you so much.” He put the phone down.
“The most beautiful girl in Kigali?” said Appiah.
“The oldest woman in Ruhengeri. Mademoiselle Connie.”
“You are friends.”
“She loves me too much. She wants to be with me always. I say no, no, you give me too many gifts, I want to give you nice things, but she says ‘No no no, Justus, there is time for that.’ She will take me away to Canada.”
He pocketed the phone. “What was I telling? Yes, in the churches we were so hungry. Like dogs. We searched the clothes of the dead people. We did not want money; it was useless to us. We were so crazy that we thought there could be food in the pockets. We escaped to Uganda. It was only later we knew that my father was dead. My brother, all of my sisters, except one. I did not speak for one year. My mother did never come back to Rwanda, but I come back for school, and now I have my job and my good friends like you.”
The boy’s easy confidences reminded Appiah of Solomon, whose friendship was lost the day the news arrived that Solomon’s son was dead. An accident, a bad death. He took a month’s personal leave from the field hospital, and when he returned he called on Appiah at his quarters on the outskirts of the camp. His first and only visit. They lived as colleagues most of the time, having agreed without ever speaking about it that they could be as man and wife only during those few happy weeks of vacation every year.
May I come in? Solomon asked. They hadn’t spoken since he buried his son, and his presence there, in the candlelit flat, among Appiah’s books and clothes and papers, was strange but not unwelcome. The intimacy of the setting and the formality between them reminded Appiah of their first trip together—the excitement of it—and for a moment he thought they might embrace.
I will go back to Lagos, said Solomon.
Yes, of course. These things take time. You will go back again.
I will take a new job.
A new job.
Solomon stared at him. The university hospital. I will go back to Lagos.
Yes. Of course, a new job. Yes.
God wills it. I will make Him another son. I will go back to Lagos.
Appiah laughed, without meaning to. He supposed he had always known they would follow different paths. Still, he was surprised. Sorry, sorry. I am sorry. I did not mean to—
You laugh, my friend, because He cannot punish you as He has punished me. There was no anger in Solomon’s voice. It was a statement of fact.
But God had punished him.
They left the restaurant after dark, Justus having promised to show Appiah to a respectable hotel. They crossed Gisenyi down long, unlit avenues with only the moon and the spill of headlights at the cross streets to guide them. Sidestepping potholes and rubbish, they walked in silence. The city rose and fell beneath them. The moon passed through cloud, and the night grew very dark. Soon Appiah could see nothing. Tired and a little drunk, he began to flag. He felt Justus’s palm, flat against his chest.
Appiah obeyed. His mouth went dry, and he closed his eyes. He braced himself for what was to come.
But Justus did not move. He seemed to peer into the darkness, deciphering the shadows, which began to growl.
“Run!” he said, and they ran, and the dogs chased. He soon disappeared into the night. Appiah followed, sprinting past silent compounds and parked cars, certain he could feel the snap of jaws at his calves. The swish of his clothes was intolerably loud. Soon he would falter and the animals would set upon him. There were too many of them and he was too tired. He ran and ran until finally he reached the light of the main road. Appiah turned, ready with a kick, and saw the pack of stringy mongrels disperse, the menace gone out of them, each dog in search now of a safe place to curl up and chew itself. He stooped, coughing, in the street, and vomited. Justus patted him on the back.
At the hotel Justus fell again into the top-boy routine, but the receptionist seemed not to know him. Solemnly she pushed the room key, a towel, and a bar of packaged soap across the desk. Now there was the question of whether they would meet again tomorrow. Before it could be asked, Appiah, his mood quickened by the night’s excitement, suggested they have one more drink, a whiskey in honor of the night manager, and when they sat down on the edge of another empty courtyard and raised a glass to her freedom, and then another, he leaned over and kissed Justus on the mouth. Justus seemed unsurprised.
Afterward, staring up at the droop of the bednet, Appiah was burdened with talk. “How did you know the name of my friend? Yesterday.”
“Mr. Solomon,” said Justus.
Appiah waited for his answer, but Justus said nothing more. He was naked, his eyes still closed, a stranger.
“Do you know,” Appiah said, very slowly, “I had this idea that I would marry her. Madame Agathe.”
The boy turned onto his side. His spine knuckled as he drew up his knees. “You should marry her,” he said. “Every man needs a wife.”