EARLY 2013 PUBLICATION BY SPARTAN PUBLISHING! See more at www.spartan-publishing.com. No publication date as iof 2/20/13, but edits are progressing. Dicho had to have his turn, after I'd completed two. These collaborations are just a bit harder than a single author book, I will say. So this sample below is not final edit.
Hopefully an APRIL release date - stay TUNED!
Congo drums pound out messages that the foreigners coming to claim African land cannot understand. Jean Turken is taken from prison in Belgium during King Leopold II’s reign in 1909 to be a Congo colonist to help silence those drums and remove the villagers’ masks. He is sent to the last of the cannibal tribes to convert them to Christianity and force them to grow cash crops. But his youthful age is thought by officials as a guarantee that he’ll be eaten, allowing the army to move in and destroy them. Instead, Jean woos Chief Mfumu in Kabinde with rifles, marries a native girl Betu and begins to believe that some people do deserve to be eaten—until Betu’s family turns on him.
Simon is another prisoner anxious for some bloodletting, but he is sent to the northern territories of the Congo. He is repulsed by the half-humans he meets, people between cultures as an effect of early conversion and forced labor in the rubber plantations. His goal is to make them happy to become a part of the growing world trade, until he meets Agatha, an American journalist in disguise who has forced her way into interior to take those scathing photos of conquest. Simon becomes a man torn between desires.Filled with historical realities of the brutal takeover of culture by Belgium’s King Leopold, Dancing with Cannibals gives readers a taste of the realities of cannibalism and forced conversion. Jean fights to protect his wife’s culture, especially around the holy mountain of Umpanga that sparkles with the souls of their ancestors, while Simon is just in it for all he can get.
In the falling of the sun, in the marketplace of Brussels, many people rushed to buy their foods and other necessities. The rush was due to the hour—the sellers were getting ready to close down their stands of fruits, vegetables and meats of lamb and pork along with the ever changing variety of crafts such as candles and pots. Customers grabbed without looking just to have something to eat from the little variety that was left at this late part of the rush.
Jean Turken walked unhurried as the rest pushed and shouted around him—sellers with their last minute bargains of otherwise spoilable goods. He looked down at the litter on the ground under his feet as he walked, agonizing in his impressionable 14-year-old mind about the dream he had that upset his entire day. Even his mother Marie couldn’t help. All she could do was tell him to see the fortune teller who had a stand at the marketplace.
Gustav, a German, was a man who interpreted dreams and read palms. He was also known as the healer of hearts in trouble, a wise man and a motivator. Marie did not believe in fortune telling, but thought her fatherless son could find simple guidance from a man who might take pity on him. She had come to her wits end over the boy’s moping about for the past few days and went to see Gustav herself while Jean was in school, and paid him in advance with the only thing of value she had.
Marie knew she could have any man who wanted her. But after her husband so badly broke her heart, felt she had little to give a man anymore, and hoped only to make her son a good person, something his father, the sneaky thieving bastard, never was.
Jean could be a troublemaker because he didn’t like school, and although he felt he could be a good person, his boredom allowed him to follow others into mischief. He walked unhurried, unwilling to follow his mother’s advice and appeared as though he had lived a whole life and was now an aged man. Just last week he had taken from a friend’s house a piece of jewelry, only later to find out its value. Marie swore to them her son would never have done something like that, because he had just been visiting there before it went missing.
Jean had reassured his mother that he would never steal, and that very night he had the dream.
Gustav was an aging man, grey and balding. Jean could see him outside, about to close his stand. He thought about going home, about the bad idea this was, when he heard Gustav call out to him.
“Come, young lad. How can I help you?” He waited as the boy stepped up to him.
Jean whispered, embarrassed. "I cannot sleep if I do not get this dream out of my head."
Gustav nodded, in apparent delight. "You are tormented by visions? I can help if you can pay the fee.” He placed a fatherly hand on the boy’s shoulder.
The young boy had two franc with him but Gustav put up a hand. “No, no, that is not what I charge. Come.”
Jean looked at the money in his hand. "If you cannot help---."
"What time is it?"
"The sun has just gone down."
"It is time to close the streets or be fined."
Jean watched as the German gypsy fortune teller latched his stand and picked up his stool to carry home. This he handed to Jean. The rest of his tools were packed in his travel bag—his cards, the crystals, and the bowl where water and tea leaves and the stick that his client stirred made interesting designs for him to interpret.
He started to walk but the boy stood in desperate sorrow. “Come to my home for dinner. You can tell me your story. If you clean for me, no charge.”
Jean followed Gustav to his small but well decorated home, furnished with the crafts he made in his spare time. Jean ran his hands over the sparse imported German furniture, and trod carefully the carpeting from India. He reached for a crystal, but under Gustav’s stern eye did not touch. He fingered the English lace curtains instead.
Gustav smiled at the boy’s curiosity. “All these trimmings of life keep me in touch with my past.” Jean froze at the sight of the drawing of a naked woman on a wall. Gustav pulled the boy to the table and asked him to sit while he prepared them some food. Jean tried to look back at the naked drawing without Gustav seeing him. Gustav chuckled but otherwise only the sounds of soup preparation, the splashing and onion smells, filled the small room.
After a good dinner that included bread with fresh cheese, Jean cleaned as Gustav watched. “Talking is difficult for you?” He got up to make them both a cup of coffee. “You are finished so now come, sit. Now talk. Otherwise this will have only been a quiet dinner and relaxing time for me tonight.”
“My dream. It is still in my head.”
“Good. Then begin.”
"I dreamed that strange people, of whom I was the shortest, were in a pyramid. I think they were Egyptians. I did not belong, but sat with the king. There was a beautiful woman who served us with food. While eating I looked at the door and saw a dog guarding the pyramid entrance. The dog was eating, too. When I looked at the dog's food, I saw the dog was eating another dog. I wanted to kick the dog but I couldn’t, because this was not my home. The king held a shining crystal on his table. I asked if I could have the crystal, and he laughed at me."
Gustav waited, but Jean seemed to have finished. “Is that all?”
“I woke up afraid.”
“And you don’t know why?”
Jean shook his head.
The old man closed his eyes. Finally he pushed his chair next to the worrying boy and took his right hand. "My boy, you know that dreams foretell our destiny.”
“I fear my destiny is prison.”
Gustav was startled. “Why would you say this?” After Jean told him his trouble with the theft, he smiled. “That you willingly told me this tells me you are a good lad. I can see your concern for your actions on your face. Prison is perhaps part of your future, but not your destiny. This dream says otherwise.” Gustav took Jean’s hand and studied the lines on the boy’s smooth palm. “I see your life line very long but cut by two big lines." He took a deep breath. “Because of what you told me, this means your life will be briefly halted. This could be your prison. We must pay for our mistakes, boy. But you will emerge a better person. Your life continues on, gets a little wider near the end. It is not a very long life. But I think, because it widens, it will be a very good life. You will grow strong, brave and smart."
“But the dream?”
"Death is also a way of life. We all advance to our last days. Life is a perpetual fight. We all fight for survival starting the day we are born. We struggle to breathe in our early days and every day after we struggle to maintain that life.” Jean sat in rapt attention. “The pyramid is a house like any house made from the stones or bricks. The pyramid in your dream may have looked like those in Egypt, but symbolically, a pyramid may mean any house situated in any country that is foreign to you."
Jean nodded. “But is it significant that pyramids are in Egypt, which is known as the earliest civilized nation still in existence today?”
Philippe nodded, encouraged by the boy’s intelligence. “As I said, pyramid means a house in a foreign country when it appears in the dream. So your destiny is not prison but a far-away place, a foreign world. But in the dream you are worried about being the shortest man in the crowd."
"Yes." Jean was not intimidated by Gustav’s frowning demand for silence. “I am not the shortest of my friends. But I fear that I might never be tall enough.”
The old man finished his coffee. "Short is not half. And big is not double. Short and big men are made the same. They have two hands and one heart each. There is nothing bad about being the shortest man in the community, or of being the tallest man in the community."
“What does it mean, then? That I cannot reach my goals?”
"Short may mean the youngest man or the most underprivileged. It also means, depending on the dream, a man who is unlike others … a different background. It also means a foreigner." Gustav took Jean’s left hand. "I see the fortune line is long too, but broken like the life line. Broken differently here, toward the end.” He studied it more closely. “You will gain wealth, lose it, and regain it. But it will not be the same wealth. Fortune is not just money or riches. So many people forget this. Your fear line is troublesome, it seems.” Gustav did not show Jean this line. “It cuts into the fortune line. You will get easy money at first but the beginning of the fortune line is attacked by a fear line." Gustav waited. “Now you may ask questions.”
“How do I get money easily? Do I take it?”
The fortune teller shrugged. “Some interpretations are for the dreamer. If you beat your fear you will become king of all you see. Fear alone conquers opportunity."
“Is there a good way to fight fear?”
“One way is to be more accepting and control your erratic impulses.” He laughed as Jean gave him a shocked look. “Don't call yourself a loser. Remember that going before or leaving early doesn't mean arriving in time."
“You sound like you know my mother. But I feel bad when I hear others are doing well. I get jealous. Why don’t I get to have good things happen to me?”
Gustav shrugged. “Leave that to the philosophers. Leaving before others does not mean reaching the destination in time. You might not reach the destination at all. We only fail when we give up. Don't fear trying. Your dream says that you will understand the ways of foreign countries and you will do well wherever you go, if you are not afraid. After all, you refrained from kicking the dog. He was not yours to kick.”
Gustav took Jean’s hand again and traced the lines. “You saw the king with big crystals and you envied those stones. Crystal means expensive, or plenty, or success. This is the most worrisome part of the dream."
“How can success be worrisome?”
"Your jealousy is worrisome. You may be pushed into doing something you should not do to get relief. You understand foreign ways but you wanted to kick the dog. You see? It’s the want that drives us, sometimes in the most disastrous of directions."
Jean couldn’t look at Gustav, who sensed that what he feared most was what the dog eating dog meant.
“You saw a beautiful woman. If you want to be happy, don't follow only the physical appearance of the woman. But because you see her beauty in a dream does not mean that you are seeing physical beauty. Dreams are deeper than that. But if you are only looking on the surface of things, take this as a warning. Dreams are destiny and often warnings. If you love a woman because of her beauty, the day she loses her beauty by accident or by getting older you will be tempted to look for another woman. So do not follow beauty."
“I’ll try to remember.”
"Beauty is like a flower—it grows old and dries up. The flower grows and at some point dies. The woman shines on the outside in her growing stage, and then when she reaches her peak the beauty disappears. It is the same with men, but more apparent in women."
“I guess, maybe, that’s what my mother complains about. But she is still beautiful to me.”
Gustav nodded with a slight smile. “I would like to meet her. Tell her to come by some time.” He stood and opened his door, inviting Jean to leave.
Jean went to the door, but stopped and struggled with what he did not want to know. “What does it mean, about the dog eating a dead dog?"
The old man laughed. “It means that in a foreign country, accept their differences. If you were to kick the dog, what would happen?”
Jean thought about this. “It could bite me.” He laughed. “It could eat me.”
“Now you know.” Gustav pushed the young boy of his house and shut the door.
In 1903 Africa was popular in Europe as a place of industrial advancement, religious conversion and personal venture, where many found opportunity to invest and expand their activities with parts of the continent still open and unclaimed. In its own particular conquest opportunity, the Belgian government decided to free criminals from overcrowded prisons and send them, regardless of crime or punishment, to colonize land in Africa far from family and community. They would still be in a prison of sorts, locked away from all they knew and loved. But they would also have the chance, by cunning and verve, to earn a living and their freedom, while providing a source of labor to the early and dangerous stages of colonization.
Jean Turken and Simon LaCouirce were two such criminals, destined to meet and cross paths, a potential friendship with criminal leanings. Years earlier Jean had been imprisoned for stealing. He started young, stealing pencils from his teachers and some reading books and did not get caught. But when he admitted to the theft of the jewel, his friend’s parents wanted him sentenced. He hadn’t believed that the emerald in the necklace was real but that ignorance hadn’t kept him out of prison. He was destined to remain there and be schooled until age 21.
Around the same time as Jean’s trouble, Simon had a different kind of problem. He loved to drink alcohol, starting when he was a boy. He would hang out with his brother Erick’s friends and they would laugh as he got drunk. At least it was attention. They started spending more time at the taverns, and soon Simon gave up on his lessons. His brother had graduated and his parents both worked, so no one cared about him.
One night the tavern keeper threw Simon out because he learned Simon was only 15 and very drunk. Erick only laughed at him and didn’t try to help. Simon got mad, and became an angry drunk, a feeling he had never before known. He found a big heavy stick. The next person who came out— Wham! Simon hit the man in the head, fell over, and passed out.
He woke up to find himself in jail for murder.
These two young men, both age twenty, were released among many others, and these two were destined to meet, both given a new life’s opportunity to work for the great Leopold II—the king of Belgium. They were being sent to Africa.
1903: Congo Free State, Africa
In Kabinde three naked bleeding white bodies hung in an awkward lean toward each other, feet fastened to the low limbs of an umbrella tree—hidden far from the Belgian white life in the Congo. These victims were not dead—every few moments a muscle twitched. But they were being bled to death a drip at a time. Surrounding them were village dignitaries and young warriors dressed in leopard skins, drinking the blood falling into their cups. Two dogs licked the drops that hit rocks.
Then one awoke and the screaming began.
Betu didn’t like the screaming. If she were Chief Mfumu—please, sweet ancestors, don’t let him hear these thoughts—she would kill them first. She would chase them and hunt them down and butcher the pieces and then boil them. But the men believed their power came in the dripping blood. Well, maybe, maybe not. She hoped that someday these men will listen to their young and sensitive women. As a child, when she still had the courage, she asked her uncle Pomu why they had to be bled to near death and boiled while alive. He said something about their power being better absorbed that way. But he referred to ancient tradition—oh ancestors do not smite me just for thinking! If they were chased and killed, said Pomu, their power could be gone before the feast. She wondered to herself if days passing made changes possible. She hated the screaming part.
Betu thought that perhaps their power couldn’t disappear like a puff of smoke when they put a fire out. The screamer woke the other two, and then the three made a singing noise in harmony. Chief Mfumu raised his voice to be heard above them, telling his chief council, the Balombi, and all others gathered, that they will remember this screaming in their dreams—the high-pitched shrieking that these Pale Ones could make. Let this memory keep them strong and rooted in the ancient ways. “Bulaya!”
More indigenous and village neighbors came running from the many villages around them as the drum messages called the beat of trouble and joy all happening at once. None wanted these strangers in their midst. They would rather be left alone for always. But more and more invaders crossed the lands, and they hoped that by eating them, one after another, these strange visits would stop and they would be left alone.
“Eat and don’t leave anything.” The old woman witchdoctor performed the cannibals’ ritual song. “Bulaya na mango, bandeke hino.” She shook her head as her feet moved in time with her song.
The fire grew bigger as Balombi wives brought more wood and got the water boiling in their big clay pot. The singing, dancing and drum beats rose with great and sincere passion as the celebration continued. Betu helped cut the brushy wood for the wives to gather and bless and throw on the fire. Betu limped with the remnants of a leg injury, so she wasn’t forced to cut so much, giving her time for her thoughts.
“Eat your enemies so their souls can never come back to revenge their death.” The witchdoctor moved with her long stick to get close to the bodies, and the drumming and singing paused. She hit the bodies as though to make them bleed faster, making them sway and whimper, and the men with the cups danced around under them to catch the drops. “They provoked us. They attacked our ways. They killed us.” She jumped around them, whacking with the anger that recalled the recent battle with these dark-clothed men, now running with rich red blood over their naked bodies. “These are the mysterious creatures who take our brothers in the night!” She cried out. “We are anxious to add you to our pot and bellies!”
Chief Mfumu, who sat in the midst of everyone, received a whispered word from one of the women. He cried out, “The pot is ready!”
As she gathered wood, and before she finished remembering how Pomu’s wife had died at the hands of these black-cloaked creatures, Betu realized the screaming had stopped. The men now boiled in the water, with the chants of the villagers tamed by the wind as they waited for the sacred feast. She came up behind the others gathered around the pot where one of the men still lived, his last moments in a kind of raptured misery. He called to the heavens in that awful language—Betu guessed asking forgiveness of their awful gods—and then slipped underwater to become their food.
Betu wondered why his pain had not ended before he sank underwater, as others boiled seemed only to fall asleep and drown. She was fascinated by the human body. Years ago her brother had his hand bit off by a lion. He said he only felt pain when he touched the top layers, but he could touch the gaping muscle shown in the wound without feeling any pain. Her brother let others poke at the throbbing red muscle of that arm, too, as she watched but could not bring herself to touch. Another time Betu helped Pomu remove an arrow from a man. She watched, fascinated, when the victim did not feel Pomu digging into the man’s liver.
The women next to her talked about these men at first seemed harmless, saying they had come to improve the lives of the natives they met. “Put us in clothing, give us better food, educate our children to know and love their God?” They laughed and shook their heads, using these memories to increase their appetite for these men with the mysterious sticks that made loud noises and killed their people.
The strange men claimed the sticks went off by mistake, but the villagers noted that their gods never brought their people back to life, even when killed by mistake. When the fight began the Pale Ones hid in the long weeds and trees and made that loud smoking bleeding noise at the villagers again. But these villagers knew the land and how to gain advantage over the most ferocious of beasts. So by surrounding these Pale Ones and listening for the loud bangings to stop, for them to tire, they were caught and turned into food.
Betu felt her belly rumble with hunger she could not control.
King Leopold II met with these prisoners to give them the Belgian policies on how to cope with Africans as official Belgian representatives. To those who were expecting a great presence, they saw a man who appeared stooped and tired, though he wore the traditional uniform as though general of a great army, sword at his side but without the great necklace as though fearing thievery by these criminals. He commanded a large gathering hall and was surrounded by many colonels with their big guns, and the noise that clogged in the hot, stilted air ended when he walked on the stage. He stood staring out over the crowd, running a hand that trembled slightly down his long beard worn to diminish the size of his nose, as though debating the wisdom of this appearance.
All felt humbled in his presence, the man who had become the richest and most powerful man on earth, who chose to appear to the new colonists. Thanks to Leopold, Africa was a country now open to all European countries. He goaded all of them years before into playing country cards but kept the largest section of land for himself. With his poker face, he won the largest hand in 1885, become a private landowner. Nearly twenty years later, however, he fought against more and more rumors that he cheated all the way, and he hoped his appearance would settle rumors that he feared assassination. And now he had to fight rumors from all quarters because of the dreadful task of civilizing those monkeys in the Congo to earn him his riches. Even his cabinet began to question him, Belgium itself benefited from the spoils, too.
"I am your King and leader of a crusade to bring civilization to Africa. I am sending you to a part of the land that’s still unclaimed by other nations to stake the claim for our country. You are entering a world of great opportunity and challenge.” He held up a book. “This is the Bible and it will be your steady companion. Use it to get the indigenous trust, which is essential to your survival there. Teach them the Ten Commandments, so they will know that killing, robbing, stealing, and cheating are sins, especially against you.”
Leopold knew that he had international permission for much of what he did, and what he did not have permission for he did anyway. The line of stations across his country were, as he told other country leaders, for “purposes of relief, of science and of pacification … as a means of abolishing slavery, establishing harmony among the chiefs, and of providing for them just and disinterested arbitrators, etc.” His “etc.” meant “by using force, if necessary. He also made them believe that they were doing it for country, instead of just for him, because they might be more cooperative, and after all, he was tiring of fighting his country to retain exclusive privilege. They say he was abusive? Just let them try to run the Congo.
Leopold sensed raised eyebrows in the room. “You did not know you risk your lives? But why else would we send prisoners? We send you to areas where many natives have not seen white skin, so be prepared to face many reactions. Many still live in the stone age, without concept of civilization or God. Go there and teach them the Bible. Show them our tools and they will be in awe and worship you. Teach them that the poor will go to paradise, and the godless heathens will go to Hell. After you gain their trust, exploit them for Africa’s resources. Find their minerals, above all else.” He chuckled. “We can see the example that the British and French set in dealing with these savages. They must be taught to understand the benefits of civilization and what happens when they resist.”
Several of the king’s bodyguards moved closer to him when they noticed a sudden restlessness. “You prisoners, you lowlife vagabonds, have been given a second chance. Those who fail but survive will be sent back to prison—for life.” He paused for emphasis. “It won’t be easy living there. You will be exposed to many dangerous diseases, such as malaria, typhoid, smallpox and cholera. But we have given you medicines to combat them, including some snake vaccines, but guard them and use them wisely. You will meet dangerous animals such as lions and hippos but you will be given plenty of weapons and ammunition. You will meet some tribes who are not friendly or welcoming so you will be accompanied by soldiers. Our army is based in the main port and I will send more into the interior when the time is right, to follow up on your successes. Currently it is a short winter in Africa, making it easier to travel. At the main port and other localities you’ll meet with your compatriots and our administration. They will all be monitoring you, so make sure you report your progress. You will refer to them as the Belgian Embassy, but they are my soldiers, so respect and fear them as you did your jail guards. They have the power of life and death over you. They will assist you with colonizing Africa."
After the king swept out of the room, a low rumble of voices started up, filled with excitement and fear. A few were led back the way they came, back to Belgian prison by choice, and the rest followed their guards out to the ships, ready for the journey.
The waters didn’t roll as much as they bowed and parted for the ship that tore its way from Belgium to the Congo—never leaving sight of the shore lines along the way but far enough out so that if Jean Turken wanted to, he could have drowned trying to swim to land. He heard some had a change of heart after a life-changing decision like this, but now it was too late to go back. Simon stood next to him, a fellow prisoner on his way with Jean to where neither of them knew for sure—somewhere in the Congo in Africa. Simon was taller than he but only by the crest of a brow, darker complexion and steely eyes. Jean felt pale by comparison with light gray eyes that needed better focus, but both were young, lean and hungry. They would learn their assignments in the town of Boma, on the coast, where Christians and natives had learned to live peacefully together.
Each ship had been filled with equipment for buildings and houses, along with food and medicine, clothes, communication equipment, guns and bibles. The men were divided into groups, like squads, and given an army sergeant to control them. Each sergeant carried a map of the territory and each map showed five areas for dispersal of five squads of twenty men each. The sergeants led their squads to their quarters in separate areas of the ship. The trip was supposed to take them about a month, and the prisoners were to be kept separate from non-prison passengers.
Marie told her son that she preferred he stay close by where she could watch him, and reminded him he only had another year of prison. He hadn’t wanted to leave her, especially after she began to cry when the King’s personal guard led him away. But, lonely as he was for her now, he needed to get out of prison where the stifling air and lack of adventure made his muscles ache. Even worse was the dream that came to dominate his sleeping hours. Sometimes he was given the woman, and sometimes the dog began to eat him.
Simon didn’t seem like a prisoner—he hadn’t the slumped shoulders or lost expression Jean saw in so many faces. He seemed wild, and restless. “Are you sad, Mon Ami?” Simon stood next to him and lit a cigarette, his body rocking gently in the waves.
Jean shrugged, his hands tight on the rail. “I have mixed feelings.” He watched the ocean splash up against the side of the ship. “The fish lives in deep water for all his life but when we cook it we have to wash it first.”
Simon laughed and leaned on the railing to study Jean, the bold broad blue horizon caressing his back. “Ah, you are a thinker. Simon LaCouirce.” He held out his hand.
Jean stared at the hand a moment—smaller than he expected and smoother, for a prisoner. He shook it. “Jean Turken. What kind of opportunity do you think we’ll find?”
“The kind that fate brings. You must be aware of opportunity.”
“Maybe.” Jean sighed, and then breathed deep. “For me, it feels good to get into fresh air again.”
Simon leaned on the railing and flicked ash. “All my neighbors who went to Africa have bought many houses in Europe. They say you can get diamonds, gold, cotton, rubber and coffee for free in Africa, because the natives don’t know the value. That’s opportunity.”
“For riches, yes.” Jean saw calm waters but his queasiness would not leave him. After being locked up on dry land, he could not find his sea legs. “I worry about dogs that eat dogs, and the tropical diseases.”
“We don't have to fear diseases because the government has supplied us with medicines.”
“And the natives will not eat us?” Jean suddenly leaned over the railing but he did not get sick as he expected. Instead the bile of nausea remained in his throat.
“Cannibals? We are coming after the priests. Even if priests had not been there yet, they are no longer in the dark ages.”
Jean had heard tales of cannibals, from the cannibal rituals in America with the Aztecs, in the jungles of Cambodia in Asia, the aborigine in Australia and from other prisoners about the cannibal ritual in Africa. He feared they all had the chance, because they were prisoners, to end up in the ritual pot. They told him they would still be alive as they were being eaten, and would feel their brains being scooped from their skulls.
Jean wondered if part of his dream had been to prepare him for this adventure, long before he knew anything of it. But how could a dream prepare him? He still felt afraid. But he felt excited, too. At least the air was fresh, the food was better and he could now see the sky. He thought maybe the prison air had made his brain go bad. “I pray that we reach our destination sooner than one month. I want to make a lot of money and show my mother that I made the right choice.”
“Patience, Mon Ami. We will get there soon enough. Imagine me, a common criminal, becoming a god to these people.” Simon laughed. “Me, a common drunk.”
“Is that why you were in jail?” Jean looked back across the water when he saw Simon had no intention of answering. “The king wants us to bring them Christianity, not become their gods.” He laughed when he saw Simon grin. “Maybe you still are drunk.”
“Oh yes, show them how to be good Christians. But our good king doesn’t care how we get the goods, as long as we get them.”
Jean shook his head. “Our good king is in trouble with Belgium.”
Simon nudged him. “Come on, let’s go see if there’s any food being served before we are sent back to our quarters again.”
Jean followed, a little slower, holding on to rails where he could as his legs still wobbled. The moist air, waves and smell of salt made him nauseous but he found if he kept his eyes on the horizon he didn’t feel quite so bad. Sailors and army personnel pushed their way haughtily around them as they walked but Jean and Simon didn’t care. They knew they were prisoners. They were silent as they walked the deck—now unable to see land anywhere.
“It’s like being on a different planet,” Jean whispered.
“Like floating in space might be like,” Simon said.
Jean wondered if Africa only existed in men’s minds. “Do you know where you are being sent?”
Simon pulled out his paper. “Looks like the north, where plantations have been established. But that’s all it says. From what I’ve heard, some natives are causing trouble and they need us to control them. Hope that’s where I go.” He pulled Jean’s paper from his pocket. “I see you are slated for some unconquered lands. Lucky you.”
Jean took his paper back. This was his adventure and he would conquer his fear. “Did you leave a big family?”
“Family? Oh, the usual noises and carryings-on when I left, but I don’t dwell on it.”
“I left some cousins but the only immediate family is my mother. She didn’t want me to come. I’m all she has. She worries.”
“I care about my two younger brothers. I will sleep in the bushes with mosquitoes so my brothers can afford to go to universities. Both my parents worked, but we never had much that was good.” Simon looked off over the water.
Jean saw his face sadden and wondered what Simon did to end up in prison.
Something to do with drunkenness, no doubt, and something worse than thieving. But
he seemed to have no fear at all.