This is the story of how a tin of corned beef broke my heart.
Fresh from my first day on the job at the Fantsuam Foundation, I was delivered to my new home in Kagoro by John Dada, the head of the Foundation. An extremely likable man with a ready laugh, John welcomed me to the aptly named “Pink House”, presumably not the inspiration for the John Mellencamp song. It’s worth noting at this point that daylight was beginning to fade as we entered the house, because the darkness that soon followed played a leading role in my tragedy. Flipping the switch for the main room turned on a light that was too dim for any activity except maybe developing film. “Afraid there’s not much for power – Bwa haa haaaa!” John’s laugh had suddenly taken a maniacal turn.
A quick tour through the flat revealed its strengths and weaknesses. It was incredibly spacious, with a large well-kept main room near the entrance and three decent-sized bedrooms. There were also three bathrooms which had last seen use during the filming of Midnight Express, I think. But I could live with that. Walking into the kitchen at the back of the flat, John showed me the kerosene stove which would soon be my nemesis. One odd thing about the flat was the complete absence of mirrors, which meant the previous residents were either very confident in their appearance or they were vampires. Given the amount of time I’d be spending in the dark, my money was on the latter. “I’ll get you some water from out back,” said John. Returning with an empty bucket, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “No water tonight, but hey, here’s some!,” he exclaimed, pointing to a barrel in the corner. Loch Ness was clearer.
Fetching a lantern from the neighbours to fend off the now pitch blackness, John put his hands on his hips and said, “OK, I think you have everything you need. Have a good night!” I was sure I heard a “Bwa haaa haaaa!” as he drove away. Facing my cavernous new digs for the first time on my own, I was determined to be upbeat. After all, I had come prepared, armed with a box of canned goods to do me for the first couple of days. “I think maybe some soup with a corned beef sandwich”, I practically sang as I unloaded my box of treasures.
I had never seen a kerosene stove like this before, a single burner which looked as though it was a veteran of at least one war, but how different could it be from the camp stoves I’ve lit in the past? I’ll just prime the stove by pumping the nozzle, thought I. As I pushed the nozzle, the stove skid across the table and rattled its disapproval. Hmmm, said I. Maybe I just need to shove a match directly into the burner. This will make for an interesting obituary, at the very least. But the stove refused to light, no matter how persistent my death wish. So, I had no heat for cooking. No matter. A corned beef sandwich and some orange juice will be a decent enough first meal, I thought as I pulled the tab off my jug of OJ and promptly sloshed it on to the table, my pants and the floor. “Gosh darn it,” I said, or words to that effect, “I’ll clean that up later.”
Grabbing the tin of corned beef, I started rolling the key around the side to open it up. Resisting the urge to start rocking back and forth, I kept up my happy mantra, “Everything is going to be OK, everything is going to be OK, everything is going to be…. SNAAAP” The key broke off halfway through its intended journey, leaving me staring at my tin in disbelief. “Bwaa haaa haaa!” I roared as I ran to the kitchen to grab a fork to start prying my meal out of its prison.
It was at this time that I heard voices outside the flat. Two men with flashlights approached the door and started rattling it. It speaks to my frame of mind that my first instinct was to protect my can of corned beef. Finding the door locked, the men proceeded to circle the building and start working on the back door. My years of training at hiding from Jehovah’s Witnesses came in handy, as I shut off my flashlight and huddled in the corner, fork at the ready should I need to defend myself. Eventually, the men gave up and walked off and I resumed my dinner in peace.
Now somewhat sated, I took the opportunity to start playing my flashlight around the room. Oh, hell. For the first time in my life, I hoped my anti-malarials were causing some kind of psychotic episode, but no, trooping across the floor toward my pool of unmopped OJ were dozens of ants, on a mission to clean up what I had foolishly left behind. Normally a fan of the industrious ant, I must admit to dispatching this troop with murderous glee, stomping them while cackling the tune to “High Hopes”:
Just what makes that little ol’ ant – Stomp
Think he can move that rubber tree plant – Splat
Everyone knows an ant – Squish
Can’t - Bambambambam
Move a rubber tree plant – Kaa-pow
But he’s got hiiiiiiigh hopes……..
No, he doesn’t. And he can’t have my orange juice, neither.
Concluding my after dinner exercise, I realized that it was finally time to get ready for bed, so I crept into the bathroom which had been wired shut for some reason and turned on the tap. And turned on the tap. And….holy shit. No water. Did I want to brave Nessie’s bucket for a splash of water on my face? No, thanks. I made my way to the nearest bed, rolled myself up in a ball and went to sleep. Nowhere to go from here but up, right?
Oh, he’s got hiiiiiiiigh hopes………
(P.S. As it turned out, the guys trying my doors in the dark were security for the building, so you can stop worrying, Mum.)