Sunday, October 16, 2016
CYPRIAN FERNANDES: House of Braganca (4)
Nairobi, Kenya 19**
FERDINANDO Amilcar e Sousa Braganca arrived in Nairobi on the overnight express train from Mombasa, Kenya’s premier port city. So, this is British colonial Kenya, he thought to himself, as he waited outside the Nairobi Railway Station.
Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, sat regally at an empirical 7,000 feet above sea level and enjoyed a temperate climate throughout the years, peppered with the rainy season and the occasional drought. Nairobi had the potential of the being a truly floral paradise given its cool climate, a loving golden sun and a comforting spray of rain but in 1947 it was early days in the flora aspect of the capital. After all WWII had virtually only just ended. European settlers and the local councils had made some efforts but Nairobi’s only real floral decorations (he would discover) were giant decorative date palms strewn through the capital. And, of course, Nairobi turned a seasonal blue/purple each time the jacaranda bloomed and popped underfoot along the few concrete pathways.
Ferdinando (Ferdi to his friends) was inwardly very pleased with what he saw. He felt good and pleased with himself that he had chosen to come to this part of darkest and wildest Africa. There were wide-open spaces, tarmacked roads, a few tall buildings, the last remaining vestiges of the city’s early buildings, tin and wood shacks really, a few cars (nothing to cause a traffic jam, although there was always an askaris (traffic policeman) directing what traffic there was. It seemed there were more parking spaces than cars. At the station he marvelled at the buses, especially the “London Red” double-deckers. Gosh, they are so clean, he said to himself. Each bus, he noticed, had a bus driver and a bus conductor who made sure everyone had a ticket. There were horse carts, donkey carts, “man carts” (like those in India where generations lived by the yoke of pulling a family cart or were employed as cart pullers). He also watched a few white settlers riding their horses around the station area.
As part of his European education, Ferdinando had spent a few years in the university town of Cambridge, working in an import-export business. While there he found many academics who schooled him in the ways of the British colonies. Later, he spent some time working as a researcher in the Colonial Office in London and found that he was particularly attracted to British East Africa. In Lisbon he had gained much knowledge about Portugal’s overseas colonies, especially those in Africa. Throughout his adult life, he had managed to hide and prosper in his role as a senior operative of that dreaded Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado 1945-1969, PIM (Military Intelligence Police in the Portuguese colonies). The US Criminal Intelligence Agency is reputed to have trained PIDE operatives in the dark political arts of torture, murder, espionage and counter-espionage which helped the Portuguese dictator Alberto Salazar keep a tight lid on matters at home and abroad in the colonies. This laughing, smiling Casanova /Adonis was never once identified as a PIDE killer or torturer.
By the time he arrived in Nairobi that day, he was no greenhorn in the ways of British East Africa. He was easily likeable and made friends easily.
As he stood outside the railway station in somewhat bemused wonderment, he felt someone tugging at his bags. He learnt later that the man was a porter and had been trying to tell him in the lingua franca, Swahili, that the taxi rank was further up the road. But Ferdi stood fast by his baggage and shooed the man away with hand-gestures that indicated “no”.
Watching his little to-do with the porter was a very a red-skinned, smiling man, in khaki shorts and shirt. He wore a slightly broad-brimmed hat and twirled a small whip in his hand; at least it looked like a whip, a horse whip, perhaps? Ferdi did not really notice the man until they were both standing almost nose-to-nose.
“You all right, old man?” asked the redskin.
“Yes, thank you.”
Recognising a quite polished Queen’s English accent, the redskin asked:
“No. From Goa, India, actually.”
“I detect an English accent?”
“Cambridge. I worked in export-import for a while there.”
“Are you OK? Can I help?”
“No, thank you. I am being met.”
“Very well. Welcome to Kenya.”
“I will wander around after a beer or two. Ta ra!”
Ferdi nodded and waived his hat.
The train had arrived at noon. Since then, Ferdi had lunched at the little European bar at the station, had a couple more Scotches, this time with lots of ice and water as it was beginning to get a little warm under the collar. He was pleasantly surprised to find the lavatory was of a European standard and clean. There was an African man who handed you hand towels at the wash basin.
Outside, he continued to wait.
At 5 o’clock, just as the first of the late afternoon shadows were just beginning to kiss the ground, the redskin was back.
“Your man has not turned up yet?”
“No. I am sorry to say.”
Ferdi found himself slightly embarrassed and rather sheepish about the whole affair.
“Well, follow me and I will take you to the Portuguese consulate. Perhaps they will be able to help you. At least, they will find you a bed for the night, even feed you, I expect. Come on then.”
They walked a bit before they stopped at a Morris Minor station wagon. The redskin opened the “boot” and piled Ferdi’s bags in.
“You are really awfully kind to help me like this,” Ferdi told the man.
“Nah, nothing at all!”
“Don’t understand …”
“Did you come all the way from Lisbon?”
“Oh no. Portuguese Goa, off Western India. On the SS Karanja, off loaded for a stay in Zanzibar then cadged a spot on a dhow to Mombasa and here I am. I did spend five years in the old country, Portugal I mean. However, I have spent time in Portugal, especially Lisbon.”
“What are you doing in Kenya? Farming, business, holidaying …?”
“I will be working at Government House. I don’t know in what capacity but I am told ‘doing what needs to be done.’
“That sounds posh, barra sahib (big boss).”
Ferdi understood his pidgin Hindi.
“On the contrary, my appointment is designated ‘Clerk, Grade 1’ ”.
“But that is a job for a coolie. An Asiatic. Not a white man’s job.”
“I did not know that. I may be facing one of life’s dilemmas. I guess I will know more in a day or two. I am not due to start work for a week but I will pop in and make myself known and work things out from there.”
“Good luck old son, but I won’t be holding my breath.”
“Sorry. I did not even introduce myself: Ferdi Braganza.”
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