GOD – DAMN – SHOT – GUN – BOOGIE
By Daniachew Worku
Do I have to tell you? ...Perhaps, for the record?! ... Well, be it known that I, Mr. X, had served under the United Nations Forces twice; once in Korea, and another time in the Congo. And ...about this – this – call it what you may... about this– ha ha! about which I'm going to tell you – you see, I'm actually exposing my inner self to you – sort of humiliating myself by myself, if you like... Oh yes, I'm used to humiliation except that until now it had been by external circumstances and only temporarily when the circumstances were acting on me... but now, since I'm used to humiliating myself by myself, if you like... but now, since I'm acting them from within... ha ha! It'll be different – it'll be forever – at least until I'm no longer conscious of what happens to me – mind you, nobody will ever know about this especial kind of total humiliation unless through my telling and that I shall never feel really humiliated until I do so – surely, it's in order that I should feel a kind of restraint and embarrassment.
I have said, I don't feel humiliated until I have told you about it. Well, that's right. But then, I don't exactly know what remains to be humiliated of myself. Nor – do I know about what might happen to me after this second and final humiliation. Besides, as a free man, I've the right and desire to know exactly what will happen to me under such circumstances – thus with such motives as these behind me, I've decided to take on myself, as a guinea pig, the risk of exposing myself inside out.
It happened after I returned from the Congo. I had plenty of money– American money, you know... and as a man with such means and all types of possibilities about him, I went out one day to explore the world – the world I had lived in but which I hadn't had a chance to know. There was nothing unusual in my exploration except that it was a night – out with a definite objective in mind– to paint the night red – you know, drink, music, women, and all that sort of thing. Sometimes it helps to have had the chance of visiting other countries. You'll know how to go about such things – and I happened to be among such fortunate few.
So, I was loitering about on one of the obscure back streets of " A " about which I was told so many unheard of stories. My God! ! I've forgotten to start at the right place; it puts me out of orbit – the story – you know, sort of what you might feel without your compass. Well, I'll – I'll start about the time when I started to be rich and actually felt the need to be free from family obligations.
It happened in Korea – in one of those cold and misty nights in Autumn – those nights in which you felt the mysterious dusk slowly engulfing you and your surroundings. I remember I had had a little too much vodka and I was out walking aimlessly in the narrow streets of a small town some five miles from where my regiment was stationed. I was out for fun, but I didn't know where to look for it – and I was thus simply taking chances.
I must have walked for a long time before I came to one very narrow street and I was starting to feel the effect of the alcohol when suddenly – it really happened suddenly, I thought I saw a movement in a dark staircase of an old two storey building. Of course I was careful and ready for anything at any moment. Well, that was what I learned in the army– always ready– always alert!! And then almost immediately I heard some irresolute foot – steps, faint at first – long drawn next – and then some quick sharp steps– you know – I knew by the feel of the very walk itself that it was a woman's – and then something was beside me – interlocking a frightened hand with mine. It seemed to me from the feel I had of her hand that she was trembling with a sort of measured palpitation. I admit that I was perhaps trembling more – you know, it could have been the enemy or some such thing – one can't be sure at such places. I looked at her, but I couldn't exactly make her out. I didn't know a word of her language, but, somehow, we understood each other.
She made eyes at me and at the same time honored me with some kind of stolid and distant voice. When I thought about it later, it must have been that I was, for a minute or two, at least in some kind of morbid state, for I couldn't exactly recall what had actually taken place. At the beginning, she was guiding me to where I had seen her and I was simply being led without any resistance – without any thought, feeling, or emotion – without anything at all. We groped up the stairs and when we reached the top she gave a long drawnout sighing. It was then that I probably woke up from the grip of her hypnosis.
We entered a room on the first floor. The air inside it had an odor of a long time uninhabited room. At a corner on a table, a lamp was burning with a short red flame, and a smoke of grayish black strip was coming out from it bending in all directions. On the same table, there were the remains of food, empty bottles, stubs of cigarettes scattered allover the table, an ashtray and some half burned candles. An unmade bed with a thin mattress was at another corner.
The window looked on a street and its panes were frozen outside and frosted within. The floor was of cement on which the wind spread itself like icy water and I was beginning to feel its effects as soon as I set foot on it.
Outside, I could still hear the riot of sounds – rustling, rattling, crackling, booming, and exploding and inside my hostess was bustling, walking from place to place, chattering in some language and puffing some perfume about her neck. In the meantime, I was taking my first good look at her.
She was what you would call a near–naked, short and stout girl. Her hair was unbounded and disarranged, and her face – though it gave substantial evidence of its close relations with alcohol – bore traces of excitement. Her unusually small eyes were sad looking and they were fixed on me, sort of immobile and gazing intently. I thought they were disposed in my favor. I felt the veins on my forehead swelling and an urgent desire to interpret those little suffering eyes of a lonely soul. I advanced to the bed: I was about to sit on it when by a movement of the hand, she stopped me and directed me to another room.
It was my first time with a woman from another race and I was excited. Well, perhaps, you know what I mean – I've been blessed with nine children from my wife. Oh, yes! I have eight daughters and a son – the last one of a series of a yearly production –and so, you can see, never had time for fun. I was just starting to open my eyes to civilization. After all, no one country can always remain backward.
Well, she pointed to a door and I obeyed. I went there; it was a toilet. I understood her language – she wanted me to wash.
When I was in my country, I never, felt the need for washing. I went down to one of the rivers once in two or three months – when l felt the need of the smell of water on my body – you know – it smells good. As for taking a bath for cleanliness, I never did – my body was always clean – I would only redden my skin even if I tried to scrub and wash it. My armpits! Oh, no! They don't smell. You know, it's only goats that gave such odor in my country. Perhaps, my pores might have been clogged very early in my childhood. I don't know, but I know one thing: my body has no unpleasant odor. However, she wanted it; I went in for the shower and almost immediately started drying myself with a towel.
She peeped in and I could see she wasn't satisfied with my operation. She even tried to come in to help me, but I refused. She did something else too – she pushed out her tongue and wiggled it in front of me – a very childish behavior – tried to reach some part of me with it, but fortunately I had the towel ready to shield myself with – God saved me! Who knows what she might have had in mind? She left me and went back to her room.
When I left the toilet and went to the bedroom, I saw her standing on her head, naked – stark –naked, and beckoning me. You know coyly and sort of primping herself about the lips. Well, it was as though an abyss had opened before me. And with that laugh of hers – sort of coqucettish laugh – it almost pushed me; down the abyss.
Well, I saw her bounce on top of me or the bed if you like, and as if to a tune of music, slowly twisting and turning her body to a ritual of rhythmic movements of the hands and fingers over her hips –" her breast – her neck – and her hair fondling each tenderly, lovingly with every minute driving wedges into my brain.
Offended, disfigured and mutilated thoughts began gathering and spreading withhin my soul. I felt a cold shiver, I tried to go to the bed and throw some clothes on her, but she threw them all back. My heart beat slowed down; my blood cooled' in my veins. I couldn't bring myself to face her.
She, however, continued beckoning me, but it was to no avail. Then I heard a brief and dull laughter – like the bleating of a goat – it grew quicker and quicker, heightening to a piercing, maddening pitch – to the sound of far away tears, Slowly, she got down from the bed, pushed me away from near it – pushed me out of her room – I hated myself for everything.
You know one thing? It was the first time that such a thing had happened to me. Perhaps, if I had known her tongue, things would have changed for the better. And the money I had thrown down the drain?! Yes, yes –as just a private –you know it was quite a lot to me, but what can one do under such circumstances? After all, it wasn't her fault! Well, I don't know; perhaps it was!! "
The next morning, during tea –time, one of my white colleagues came to me and addressed me with his usual salutation... "
“Eat, eat, stupid E.,” … he said.
"Drink, drink, drink, stupid E." ...he added – and as usual, you know, he expected the friendly reply of "Ye, ye, ye, ye!" or "Yes, yes, yes, yes!" the only words I knew. Of course, sometimes, when I was angry, I had something else to say. I said, "God –damn – shot – gun – boogie" words I had heard from foreigners and records and which somehow, unconsciously, came to me in that form in time of need. By the way I had known these words before I went to Korea. And so, he expected me to answer, but I couldn't.
And then another colleague of mine, again a foreigner, came and addressed me with the same words he knew I know.
“Eat, eat, eat! Stupid E.” … I couldn’t answer him either. Then, a third one came and addressed me in the same way you know. I was good at making friends, a real mixer – well, this time I couldn’t contain myself. What do you mean!! I was never humiliated by a woman before – and the anger of the previous night had not left me. And so I shouted “God – damn –shot – gun – boogie!” they knew I was angry – they laughed and left me alone.
On this same day, I wrote a letter to my wife – a bitter letter. In it, I told her that she had to live with only half of my salary which was about fifteen dollars – and that I would need the rest. And starting from the end of that month – I began a new life.
I was fed and clothed and was even given pocket money by the UN, you know – to kill the natives, natives who had done nothing to me and whom in reality I had come to like and admire. Anyway, that was none of my business and I went about in my own little world. My half salary was sent me from home 'and I was having a good time.
My friends were happy to find me playful again – they called, "Eat, eat, stupid E." and I answered, "Yes, yes, yes, yes!!"
"Drink, drink, stupid E.," and answered
"Ye, ye, ye, ye,ye! !" And you know – they have a way of hitting you on the stomach – real hard – and I cried.
"God – damn – shot – gun – boogie!!" They laughed and I laughed with them!!
Later on during my stay, I went back to that girl and others and showed them what a man I was! Oh, yes, they knew me for it. Humiliation?! – I never allowed!!
But at home, my wife must have found it very difficult to live on only half of my salary. I didn't know how it happened. When my whole salary was only twenty dollars we used to live on it – seven of us – my wife, my children and I – happily and. proudly. Well, she wrote me almost every week. I heard her even over the army operated radio program of "Message for soldiers in Korea" – you know, with tears in her throat moaning her greetings to me:. She chose the music we loved to be played over the radio – all that, I knew, to tell me that she was in a desperate situation. But I was with other women and was listening to a different tune and it didn't occur to me even to answer her letters.
Finally, a friend wrote to me that she had rented a house by a roadside. I knew what the problem was she was trying to be showy. And so, I wrote to her releasing her from the marriage contract. She didn't answer back and I didn't seem to care at the time.
Anyway, she did the right thing, you know, one is entitled to a wider view of life. And I did the right thing as well, for as the saying goes – "when you go to Rome, do as the Romans do."
Then, I returned home after a year and half, but, I didn't bother to visit my wife and children. I had plenty of money and all the experience I needed; so I set out to show what I had learned. Some women repulsed me; some liked me; but all liked my money. Everything went well as long as I had my pocket full. Slowly, however, I had almost squandered all I had and started borrowing money on my medals. I had four of them; two for the service in Korea and two for my service at home. But they didn't last me long either; and the time for claiming them back had expired. I saw some people wearing my medals during celebrations. In fact, one day, having become almost insignificant – people having stopped even noticing me – I was sitting in a tavern of one fat old lady – to whom I had pawned one of my Korean medals when I saw her engaged in a conversation with some gentlemen and went into another room to bring – in proof of what she was telling them – my medal – and exhibiting it proudly as one of the gifts given to her by the Emperor for her unparalleled patriotic achievements during the Fascist invasion of 1935.
Well, what could have I done? Anyway, it taught me to maintain my high standard of living. I found it difficult to live mainly on half of my salary, and therefore, my ex –wife had to relinquish her claim of the other half. After all, all my children were above the age of three and I knew that the law wouldn't give her a thing even if she went to it. I couldn't help it, you see, with a higher standard of living I had learned abroad.
At about this time, however, the war in the Congo came to my rescue. I volunteered to go there and was sent in the first dispatch.
I made friends as easily as before and was having a very good time when one day something unexpected happened to me.
We were having our morning tea when I saw a man further off from various groups – drinking his tea alone. He seemed to be meditating. I wanted to strike a new friendship; I went to him and smiled in a friendly way, He saw me out of the corner of his eyes – but that was all.
So, I ventured to say – so as to make him know that I was no fool, after all, and had some experience with people of his kind – I ventured to say: "Eat, eat, stupid American!" The man instead of smiling turned red and eyed me from head to foot; he uttered something. I didn't know what to do with him, and so, I repeated what I had just said, but before I had time to finish, he had already given me a real greeting with his fist and I was rolling on the ground. It happened so quickly that I was on the ground with some three blows.
People came from different directions and stood around me. It was so humiliating, I stood up immediately and stared at them and shouted:
"God – damn – shot – gun – boogie!!" But nobody laughed. I tried to laugh but didn't go far; and so I went out of the crowd and went my way. You know, I was clever there, for if I had reported him, it would have been beating myself by myself – it would have been exposing myself to more shame in front of my superiors. I let it pass by. But I had always entertained the idea of shooting him the first time I got the chance. However, the chance didn't come and the incident slowly developed in me a tendency towards restraint when it came to being friendly with a white man.
I stayed in the Congo for two years and returned home. And the fact that a white man turned me down left a big scar in my heart.
One day I was out on one of the obscure back streets. I was told, as I had mentioned at the beginning, many things about it; such things as very young girls – nine or ten years old – and old women and middle aged women from forty to sixty – well, I was out there.
It was in the middle of July – the beginning of the rainy season in E. The sun had set long, long ago and the sky was dark with thunder clouds. A violent gust of wind was blowing northward. Already, there was a sudden and momentary downpour twice and the litter and garbage on the streets was not yet washed away but soaked, agitated with the rain and swelling and rising above the surface to a kind of unpleasant and at some places offensive smell. Thanks to the eucalyptus trees that abound the area, however, you were met from time to time with a kind of diluted breath.
The street, owing to the pending rain, was not at all active at the moment. It looked deserted, in fact. But still there were lots of movements in the dark corners between the small houses and in the small porches of corrugated iron roofs. People could be seen even in the darkest of corners; a white spot, "Shemma", the national dress and above it a small light of a cigarette or a blotch of face in the light of a struck match or a patch of figure in the flash of lightening. But still I couldn't make whether they were men or women for they were garbed with the "Shemma" from head to foot.
At times, I saw some of them peeping out from some dark corners – wavering for a long time before they dared to come out upon a lighted spot on the street. But somehow, they never seemed to like me. No sooner did they saw me than they disappeared into the darkness. They had, however, a kind of attraction to cars. When they heard the very sound of them – be they 1935 Fiat – they run in two's and three's from various corners. I saw many jumping into cars after a very brief conversation.
I remember I walked for more than half an hour to and from along the road. But none seemed interested in me – except of course the very old ones who were trying to attract me with some indifferent gesture.
Finally, I decided to choose a corner and lie in wait. From there I saw that the little girls were not only attached to cars but to white men. I also saw that they ran from the natives even when they owned a car.
It was getting pitch dark and cold and I was feeling the cold more and more and decided to go to other areas. But about this time, I noticed a white and red Opel car rounding for about the third time. He was driving slowly now and I knew he was up to something.
From the end of the row of houses, a very small kid emerged. At first, she didn't seem to be willing to go any further; but I saw, too, two hands pushing her encouragingly. I saw that that was my chance, I determined to snatch her from that man in the car. After all, I had as much right as he had. And so I advanced cautiously. The girl in the meantime decided to follow the car. The car, however, didn't stop. It curved into a dark corner. It still didn't stop. The girl kept on following the car and I kept on following her in the dark. I saw her by the light of the roadside; she was very small, probably seven or eight years old, but very pretty. I swore never to loose the chance.
She seemed very frightened; perhaps, it was her first time – that started my blood boiling; you know, she could be a virgin, a real prize, well, you couldn't tell! But hope at least!! And so I followed and saw even the driver of the car. He was a white man; and that put more fuel into my blood. Suddenly, the car stopped. The girl hesitated and in fact retreated for one or two steps. But the man stepped out, showed her a small piece of paper which I took to be a ten dollar note, took her by the hand and almost threw her into the back seat. I saw her attempting to open the door and free herself, but she was caught in time and couldn't make it. My blood boiled in me; I felt rage mounting in my head. The man who boxed me flashed in my mind – and I ran towards the car, but it was too late. The car was on its way.
"God damn –shot –gun –boogie!!" I shouted but somehow, for the first time, I was stung by the emptiness of the expression. And Laughter? There was no more in me!! It died then and there!!
I was furious; I didn't know what to do. I started back towards the place where I saw the hands pushing the kid, but the hands weren't there. I walked on in the same direction for a short while beating my palm with my own fist and uttering, now and then, loudly and unconsciously... "Is this a man! Is this a man..." when I saw a figure far off on the road which I suspected to be the owner of those hands – and I was increasing my speed, continuing to utter: "Is this a man! Is this a man! Is this a man .." when I was suddenly stopped by 'a voice which said:
"What do you think then it is?" At first I couldn't make out where it came from. Towards my right, I saw the statue of "H" –and from behind it something started to emerge – first a cap – then a head and then a neck...
"What do you think then it is?" he repeated.
"Well, that –that..." I shouted furiously.
"You were saying – Is this a man! Is this a man! Weren't you?" he said calmly, looking at the statue.
"You mean..." I shouted again.
"If it's not a man..." he shouted back drawing my shouts and threateningly shaking his index finger as if addressing the statue –and then, somehow, in a flash –I knew what he was trying to involve me in – and almost before he had time to finish his sentence, I uttered, "Why, sir, it's an angel!!" He was a cop. He showed me his agonizing smile and let me go – and I caught up with the "two hands".
I started shouting from far behind it: “You know what you have done! You know what you have done! You! You!” My right hand stretched in front of me. But for no reason at all, I suddenly became ashamed of its shaking as it did in front of me and let it drop beside me. But I still kept on shouting.
The grabed figure stopped – moved its hips attractively and its head timidly away from me, and thus having given itself all the time to put on all the grace that it had deemed essential at such a time – it slowly brought the tantalizingly smiling face to my view – and whose do you think it was – my better half’s.