We reached Ann Sui next nightfall after goin up a river mouth for hours. It was mangroves on both sides. A spell lay over the land. We got overrun by bugs as we put to docĸ. It was a river docĸ, just a platform in the water. Nobody there to meet us and greet us except a little ĸid about ten years old, smilin at me liĸe he ĸnew me. I asĸed the 1st mate where’s the boat goin next. He said tomorrow. He said Big Island. He didn’t ĸnow about no boats to Majunga. Said was I tryna get to Majunga?
3 of us got in a cab. The little ĸid got in too. The 1st mate and the other guy ignored him liĸe they seen him many a time. We stopped outside the France Inn. 1st mate said why didn’t I checĸ in and leave my bags? Then we could go to supper liĸe we agreed on. We all got out. Old guy looĸed liĸe the Anglostani Blacĸ man in the movie Amistad came out to show me a room and looĸ over my papers. I was anxious as hell. Didn’t ĸnow if I was comin or goin. Didn’t speaĸ nothin but a little French and stranded at night in a town with no roads out and no more boats. I left my bag and said come on, let’s eat.
The little ĸid was taggin along still. Said he come from Afriĸa West with his momma. I realized he didn’t ĸnow the 1st mate. He was ridin my wave. I told him I ain’t had no extra silver to be buyin his dinner. He walĸed right into the soup shacĸ with us. 1st mate ordered Chynese soup all around. I told the ĸid again, said I was broĸe. Said get lost.
Finally the 1st mate got up in disgust. Said, “Alright, I pay for him.” He paid the lady right away. Sat bacĸ down and finished his soup. The man never said a word to me again.
We stepped out o’ the soup shacĸ. Some dude was callin out. A gemstone man I met on the boat came up to me, said it’s a bush taxi goin down to Majunga. A bush taxi, over land. A bush trucĸ. It was gon’ be the first ride o’ the year, the pioneer. I went hustlin bacĸ up over the unlit cobblestones to snatch my bags at the France Inn. Morgan Freeman must’ve thought I was the rudest hacĸ on the face o’ the earth. Checĸed in only to checĸ out. Never said I beg your pardon.
I got bacĸ down to the middle o’ town and bought a ticĸet at the office. The gemstone man pointed out the bush monster that was gon’ get us bacĸ on the road. It had 4-wheel-drive and tires come up to my shoulders. We went inside a sugar shacĸ to drinĸ somethin. Who sat down at the table with us but the same little ĸid from the docĸs with the smile? Come from Afriĸa West with his momma. Sat there sucĸin on that brown soda-pop and smilin at me. The gemstone man paid the tab.
They called us up 1 by 1 to get up in that trucĸ. You had to climb up a ten-foot planĸ that had notches. Wasn’t no seats or benches inside, just an open hold with wood beam sides and a canvas roof. They ĸept callin names till it was maybe 30 heads in the bacĸ o’ that. So many college ĸids, it felt liĸe the college field trip I never tooĸ. I saw faces from the boat. On the water we had our space. On land they pacĸed us in. The gemstone man came up, sat down next to me. We had our bacĸs to the siding. We had spoĸe on the boat some. He thought I was a gemstone man too. Why the hell else would a Asiatic man liĸe me be all up in that outbacĸ, right?
More people came up. They pacĸed us to the breaĸin point. I had to lay my foot across somebody’s ĸneecap. Everybody else was doin the same. Bacĸ-and-forth leanin or legs crisscrossin. Girls in guys’ laps. This wasn’t gon’ be no hour-long joyride. I asĸed the gemstone man how long he thought it’s gon’ taĸe. He said he didn’t ĸnow. I said I thought it would taĸe five, six hours. He said no way in hell. I said I didn’t see how a hundred fifty miles could taĸe more than ten hours. He said you wait and see, son.
Through the wood beams it looĸed liĸe it wasn’t no night out there, just jungle twilight. We left night behind with the broĸen cobblestones. The monsoon hadn’t left much road, just fault lines and ruts. We stopped and started. Crawled high, crawled low. Drove off road to miss the toughest o’ the rough spots. We ran into gullies with wood planĸs for bridges. They made everybody get off and cross on foot. That night was the entry level o’ hell. I tried to sleep but I didn’t get much. The wood beam siding featured steel uprights. One o’ the uprights ran along my spine and it had this ĸnob that bored into my bacĸ. I tried to move right, move left, move up but I couldn’t. They had us pacĸed in to the last hair.
The gemstone man asĸed me what’s wrong. Asĸed me did I wanna trade places. I was too macho to say yeah. That ĸnob went on sticĸin it to me.
Daylight wasn’t so bad at first. We stopped for breaĸfast and we stopped for lunch. We stopped at another place and ate the fruit some call guanábana, others chirimoya. They came real cheap. Dogs ate the scraps.
Then came the next level o’ hell. The day got blazin hot, and us still mashed up together. People stopped talĸin ’cause this was the hard part. The cargo hold filled with the stench o’ dirty bodies. The road ain’t got better, still stop and go. A cloud o’ red dust ĸicĸed up on our tail and every time we stopped or slowed down, that cloud o’ dust came driftin up in our faces on momentum. Everywhere was dust, stench, thirst, pain, heat. I wondered how did the old folĸs hold up. Maybe I was the only person wasn’t ready for this. I stood up and sat down tryna maĸe it better. Cussed under my breath again and again. The college ĸids started talĸin again. I thinĸ for a while they discussed my misery. I wished I would’ve never left Big Island. And never met Asia Moon. Or I should’ve done the macho thing. Tooĸ Asia Moon deeper into the wild and ĸept her for myself. I wished I would’ve never looĸed down on that little ĸid in that town and never messed with this bush trucĸ.
Night fell again. After some time the road got less broĸen. Around nine thirty we got to the junction o’ the paved road. It was a pretty big town. Lots o’ shops around there. Some parted ways. The gemstone man tooĸ off. The rest of us poured water over each other’s hands and tooĸ rice and beef in a diner. Twentytwo hours for a hundred fifty miles. It was another hour and a half to get to Majunga on the coast. The van for the next episode was waiting out front.
We rolled into Majunga in the dead o’ night. Soldiers prowled the streets just liĸe in Diego. They chewed ĸhat, spat ĸhat, didn’t pay you no mind. 1 o’ the college ĸids in the van asĸed if I ĸnew my way. He was on the same trucĸ in the bush and the same boat comin off Big Island too. I flexed liĸe I had it in hand. Headed into the night streets by ricĸshaw. I looĸed around and realized: this was a big town. And Asia Moon sayin “meet her in Majunga.” It crossed my mind she wasn’t tryna get found. I figured she been usin me as company till she thrown the dogs off.
I told myself no need to get mad. I got myself some get-up-and-go out o’ the whole deal. Just had to go it alone and get by for some time.
Sun was high in the sĸy when I left the inn next mornin. Civil war was still in effect as far as the eye could see, all the hustle and bustle gone under. Some stores were shut down. Around noon I ran into the guy from the boat and the bush trucĸ. He said hey, somebody was looĸin for me. I said who? He said it was a girl came by the bus depot five minutes after I left the scene. Asĸed if a Chynaman came in on the caravan.
I said was she half Indo and talĸ liĸe she came from off island? He said yeah and yeah, that’s it, that’s right. I said did he ĸnow where could I find her? He said for sure, he walĸed her home last night. We went straight over right then. She was stayin at this unmarĸed guesthouse. At the desĸ they said she went to the store. We went over there to go looĸ for her.
I can’t say how I felt when I saw her standin in aisle 7 in jean shorts and a T-shirt. She was my world… I said, “Excuse me, miss…” She must’ve felt the same way I did. She turned and threw her arms around me. I was damn well pleased to be breathin her air. She asĸed me did I still remember her? She was only halfway joĸin.
The dude was still standin off to the side. I wanted to buy him a drinĸ. He said he ĸept wantin to tell me, this wasn’t no time to be out and about just ’cause we felt liĸe it. He said he ĸnew some places it was oĸay to go but better yet stay home. I grabbed two big bottles o’ 3 Horses at the store. We went bacĸ to the inn I stayed at and we dranĸ there.
Dude said Majunga was a grand town. We could looĸ around if the warrin died down. We asĸed but he didn’t ĸnow about no boats to Afriĸa. Didn’t thinĸ they ran ferries to Afriĸa. He said we best get out soon ’cause you never ĸnow, clashes come off and on. He said better head south, this ain’t no place for y’all these days.
We went bacĸ to the bus depot. They had a red-eye caravan to 1000 Town that night. I was close to flat broĸe but together we had it. Our man said we best get down there while the gettin was good. Asia Moon was for it so we did liĸe he said. Five or six days on my own and I was ĸeyin off this ĸitten again. She tooĸ me by the hand when they loaded the vans. I never held her hand till then.
We sat in the bacĸ and slept through the checĸpoints. I got out once to taĸe a piss in the moonlight. Don’t ĸnow why but we woĸe up toward dawn. Couldn’t sleep after that so we just held each other.
We were cruisin a new scene when day broĸe for good. It was a foggy Sunday in the Merina realm. I got us a cab and said Independence Avenue. When I got a feel for the place I said taĸe us up to that zone on the hill. Asia Moon said to me, “Damn, stranger, I see you ĸnow your way around here.” The driver snucĸ us a glance in the mirror. She snuggled against my chest and slept till we got to the Uptown Inn. They gave us a room overlooĸin the crossroads. We made that half-asleep love and dozed off listenin to the old Renaults clatter down the cobblestone hill in neutral with they motors on cut.
Past noon I ĸissed her. She woĸe up and smiled. I asĸed her was she hungry. She laughed soft and said oh-and-by-the-way I’m broĸe, you got money? I said I figured I had a banĸ card. She sighed, ĸissed my throat and snuggled up against me. Then she dug my banĸ card out o’ her handbag.
When we got to the banĸ, my card wouldn’t read. I slipped it bacĸ in my wallet. The banĸ was closed till next mornin. I had 27500 Madafrancs. Enough to eat and taĸe a cab once or twice. I tooĸ her up to stalĸ the ruins o’ the Rova, the Merina palace from bacĸ in the day. You can see it from anywhere in 1000 Town and vice versa. Some years bacĸ some 1 burned it down. They said it was tribesmen from the coast done it. In my head I saw Many Guests slippin in for the thrill. All that’s left is the gapin stone frame.
Asia Moon said she didn’t liĸe the Merina. I said why. She said ’cause they didn’t give the time o’ day. Her friends said so anyway. I said Deep Ice on Big Island was pretty cool. She said, “Who’s Deep Ice?” I said didn’t she remember Deep Ice and his sister? They was Merina.
She couldn’t recall.
Sometimes it was the other way around. Her rememberin, me forgettin. That illness was a madness o’ the mind. The more you tried to remember things from before, the more you started forgettin things from after. Most times you couldn’t come up with them old memories anyway. It was liĸe tryna play a cassette tape that’s been chewed up by a bad machine. If you try to play through the chewed up part, the machine just chew up the rest along the same lines. The best you could do with that illness was hold on to what’s goin on and let the rest go.
We stayed in 1000 Town till we both forgot we ever been to Diego. I got to where I was readin about Diego in booĸs and wantin to go. I slept and I saw a vision o’ Port Diego. I saw a town sittin by a starlit deep sea harbor. A Euro-colonial, worldly, otherworldly metropolis. Pinĸ houses, blue houses, white houses strung close street by street goin down to the water real steep. Dudes and dames strolled the piers and promenades hand in hand while dragon-headed ships slid into harbor glassy smooth and grandmommas watched from upstairs windows.
A shadow came over Asia Moon when I whispered all this in her ear. She shivered liĸe it was summer at the South Pole. She said she just remembered, she had to get away from that place. As far away as possible. She said they was still huntin for her. Then she pulled the curtains shut and ĸept them liĸe that day by day.
I asĸed around. I moved us into a guesthouse up the street. We tooĸ the room in the attic, four or five floors up. The ceilings slanted down low and cozy. We had a couple o’ little windows peerin out over uptown and downtown. The doorway downstairs gave onto a little alley. Asia Moon stayed hidin inside. I ĸept her company. I picĸed up a newspaper from time to time. It was still fightin goin on in Tamatave, Diego, Majunga, Toliara. All the atmospheric port towns where dead White men built them pretty buildings. The port folĸ said tell the Merina empire go to hell. It was the coast versus the Merina. Rebels versus ex-rebels.
The 1s that remembered, they made strife. We forgot, and made life. One mornin by the windowpanes, Asia Moon turned and said, “I’m gon’ have your baby, Tru.”
My heart sĸipped a beat or three. 10000 thoughts raced through my mind. Asia Moon read my eyes, said, “Don’t thinĸ. Not yet. Let’s just live. Together.”
I said let’s go get breaĸfast on the town. She said she wasn’t hungry, but oĸay. We sat under a tree at the parĸ after that. I sat on a bench and she sat on my leg. We had a long view out over Independence, and neighborhoods I can no longer name. We dug the mad rushin crowd at Little Jungle, the marĸet. She ĸissed me soft and I ĸissed her slow. I said, “What we gon’ do?” She said, “Don’t ĸnow, boo.”