The television was blaring an odd tune that was played by six white folks on guitars, a piano, drums and a saxophone. They were some sort of jazz band, but the tune sounded awful, like when Nina sang in the bathroom. It was almost noon and the temperature outside had gradually wafted into the room lowering the room temperature drastically so that I was soon shivering. The girl, whose name I still didn’t know by now was considerate enough to start a fire in the fireplace soon after serving breakfast.
Breakfast was poached eggs, waffles, croissants and tea. I gobbled it all up. At the time, I would have gobbled anything up. We had sat together at the dining table throughout the meal. Just the two of us. Nobody said anything to anybody. She finished up before I did and walked back to the kitchen to tidy up.
‘Hey Chappy, put your dishes in the sink when you’re done’
I looked up from chewing a waffle. She was already walking away. My mouth was still full. I wanted to tell her I wasn’t Chappy. Chap, Chap, Chap. Chappy sounded like something a pet crocodile would answer.
I ate the rest of my meal in silence.
As I sat and warmed myself by the fire she had started, she sat on the chair adjacent to me. She was flipping through a fashion magazine. Elixir. She would read for a while then giggle, and at other times make some funny exclamations. I was getting tired of the unnerving sounds, it was like constant water dripping, with the television sounds all the while filling my head. I decided to watch the TV and soon, enveloped by the warm room temperature, I drifted off to sleep.
I woke up because someone was calling my name in my dream. It was Nina. She was slapping my hands and calling me, and slapping my hands and calling me, and then I woke up to the sound of someone calling me and tapping my arms lightly. I sat up quickly, my mind hadn’t still overcome the shock of being beaten within inches of my life. It was on overdrive mode, ready to guard against any form of external aggression. I realised I was staring into familiar eyes. It was the face of Hanson. I looked around the room. There was no one else there.
‘Hans’ I called, as though I had just learned how to talk
‘Chap’ he called with a little too much enthusiasm.
I sat up straighter, arching my back forward. Hanson stooped to level his face with mine. He had aged, visibly. It could have been a number of other things too, not just age. For one, I smelt alcohol on his breath. It caused me to glance at the clock. It was still morning. What was he doing soaking himself in alcohol at mid-morning. His lips had thinned too. They had darkened, like broken pencil lead. His eyes were bloodshot, and made me think he had also just woken from sleep. His hair stood out in unkempt tufts, a poor imitation of an afro style. When he smiled, I saw a gold tooth. He had never had that back in Memphis. Now he had full beards too, and a matching moustache.
I disliked the person I saw instantly. No way this was Hanson.
Yet I knew it was. Eyes never told lies. It was still his eyes.
‘Chap, you ‘wake yet? Talk to me man’ His hands were on my shoulders, holding it lightly in a way that did not hurt the bandage placed somewhere around there
‘Hans, where have you been?’ I asked too calmly for the outburst I expected to ensue
‘Hey sorry man. He touched the side of my face where a plaster was pasted. I flinched and pushed his hand away. I was still peering at him, trying to figure what had changed about him.
‘Hey man, it’s me Hans’ he moved back and looked at me then locked me in an embrace I did not reply. My body was aching. I told him so and he let go of me.
I didn’t know where to start. I finally decided. ‘Is this your place?’
‘Yeah, this my crib man’ he looked around like he was seeing his house for the first time. My gaze never left his face.
‘Who’s the girl?’
‘This is not time to play games Hans. My mind is a mess now. Who the heck is the girl?’
He looked at me oddly then, ‘Oh, you mean Diane?’
‘You tell me’
‘She’s Diane. Hope she fixed you something to eat?’
‘Hans, why did I get beaten? What kind of business are you running here? And who are the guys that did this? You
keep them here?’
He sat by my side on the chair
‘I said I was sorry man, sorry, really. They thought you was another person. Hell, Chap you think I will do that to you? After all we been through together?’
He was still trying to placate me ‘I fought ‘em when I returned. I was so mad when I saw what they did to you.’
‘Why would they beat anyone that bad?’ my mouth ached as I spoke ‘What could such a person have done?’
‘I have enemies, Chap’
I watched Hanson as he fiddled in his pockets and retrieved a packet of cigarettes. He lit it and puffed a ring then stroked the dog-end on the edge of the chair. He tousled his hair with his free hand. He caught my eyes on him and for a brief second our eyes locked. I knew a lot had changed.