Sunday, October 16, 2016

CYPRIAN FERNANDES: House of Braganca (5)

“Russell Ferguson, British, farmer. You can call me Fergo. Been here since 1920. Love the place, love the country. The blacks are a bit of a nuisance, nothing we can’t take care of. Just a little thieving, really. We have a coffee farm just outside of Nairobi, at a lush green place call Limuru. Ask anyone for the way to the Ferguson Farm. Come any time, no fuss, and no ceremony. Our phone number is available via the phone exchange. Just ask them for the Ferguson Farm at Limuru. We also keep a few animals. We grow vegetables for the Nairobi market and a cousin of mine is working towards cultivating flowers for the local markets. But coffee is the big thing. Come. You will love it.”
“My ancestral home in Goa is a large estate. It has been in our family for more than 400 years. It is family myth or legend that we trace our ancestry to the Viceroy Dom Constantino de Braganca. We have a long stretch of beach, crystal clear waters, silver sands, coconut groves, cashew, mango, guava, banana, and a huge variety of tropical fruit, rice paddies, spice gardens, acres of flowers… Our family has worked at Government House, Goa, as long as the Portuguese have been there. Many say that Goa, especially with the Portuguese there, is a very special piece of heaven. I hope I can show it to you one day.”
“What the heck are you doing here, and a humble clerk at that? Man, are you mad?”
“On the contrary.  I am just getting started. I have seen a bit of Europe. I want to see as much of Africa as I can before I head for the Far East and the Americas. I want to see the world, from all its aspects. That is why I accepted the clerk’s job. I want to learn how you Brits do such a good job of your colonies.”
“God man! You must belong to nobility of some of sort. Aren’t you letting the side down, disgracing your mother and your father, 400 years of your family’s history? I would not do what you are doing for all the gold in China, or Kenya, for that matter! I say shame on you.”
“Hang on a minute, old chap. I am simply trying to learn how the other half lives. Not the absolute bottom of the bottomless pits, just the people half way up from there. As I said, I am also here to learn more about British colonial administration in her colonies.”
“If I did what you are doing, my father would have me shot for being insane. My mother would never talk to me again and I would not have a single white man for a friend ever again. No white woman would ever marry me. No white men’s club would allow me entry. Madness.”
As they neared what looked like a large bungalow, Fergo said: “We are here.”
Just as Fergo was about to wave goodbye, after dropping the bags off, Ferdi told him:
“Thanks so much for bringing me here. I enjoyed your friendliness even though I might not have explained myself properly.”
“What is there to explain? You are a white man doing a coolie’s job, a job that is beneath you! That is your first lesson about us. The social graces and everyone’s place in the colony.”
“That is just it. The job is not beneath me because I am not a white man. Some of me is white, may be, some of me is Goanese. Exactly how much of either I have in me I don’t know. I feel Goanese.”
Just as Ferdi snapped out of his lost-in-thought moments, Fergo was fuming and as the redness of skin increased to scarlet red, there was a fair chance he would explode, it seemed.
“Good Lord. You are nothing but a fucking half-caste coolie. You may talk white. Act white. Even think white. Even have the morals of a white man. But. You are not white. You are black in a fraudulent skin. A dishonest albino. You are diseased. Piece of shit. To think that a pure Aryan man allowed you to sit in a white man’s car … in the front seat, next to him … oh, the shame of it all. And, you shut your mouth. Don’t speak a word of today. You have contaminated the air I have breathed in your company.”
“But I am a devout Catholic.”
“Yea but that is not good enough. It is not f******* Church of f******* England, not your true Anglican. The Pope is a shit like you.”
With that he tore into the early night’s shadows. The sun sets early in Nairobi.
Ferdi thought nothing of Fergo’s outburst. Ignorance, maybe. But he was not going blow his cover just because it had the right effect! Ha, ha, ha, he allowed himself a little chuckle.
Ferdi did not have time to tell him that his family is as white as it is possible to be white in a sun-baked, naturally black-skinned country. It is also without doubt the richest family in the land. Ferdi really does not ever have to do a single moment’s work in his life. Yet, that is his mission: to carve out a life all of his own, utterly, completely, irrevocably, HIS OWN.
After introducing himself and presenting letters of introduction from the Governor of Goa to the embassy/consulate staff, Ferdi was shown to his room where a servant was on standby to put his things away. The servant wore a crisp white uniform with a black roped band around his waist. He wore no shoes. While Ferdi helped himself to a neat Scotch, the servant set out on the bed Ferdi’s under garments for a shower or a bath and clothes for dinner and his, which ever he preferred.
However, before doing that, Ferdi handed one of the consular staff a note and asked if someone could contact the person mentioned in the note and inform them that he was staying temporarily at the consulate. The note said:
Mr Alfonso Angelus de Cabral Fonseca
Mrs Maria Albina Agusto Messing
Reata Road, Nairobi
Angelus Fonseca  was a contact arranged by his father.
The consul assured Ferdi a driver would see to it first thing in the morning.
Later they dined on something that looked like the Italian Minestrone soup, chicken caldin (a Portuguese/Goan curry) with rice, vegetables and salad. They toasted each other with the Portuguese Mateus rose wine and finished the meal off with a fruit salad before settling down to a Goan cheerot (Goan rolled cigars) and cognac.  Between puffs at the cheerot and seeps of the cognac he brought them up to date (as much as he could) about the “war” in Portugal which he had kept out of altogether, its impact on Goa and other matters of interest. During the war, the neutral Lisbon had been a hotbed of the spies and intrigue.
The consul, Antonio Cabral e Castanha, a career diplomat, cautiously approached the issue that had been perplexing his mind from the moment that the consulate had been advised that a man of such high nobility would be contacting the consulate. The question he most wanted to ask was: what are you doing here? And why are you working at Government House?
“So, what brings you to Kenya?”
“I have been interested in the British colonial system. While I was in London, I worked at the British colonial office where I continued my interest. When I left there, I thought it was time to see how the thing worked on the ground, terra firma, so to speak. Later, I will also be visiting our provinces in Africa, especially Mozambique and Angola.”
The consul and the others nodded … the conversation turned to Portugal, Prime Minister Salazar, Lisbon society, the women, etc. Tomorrow, a new life would begin for him.
This was a somewhat different Ferdi, of course, who settled down to a somewhat interesting life in prettiest Nairobi. Gone were the curls, the sparkling, laughing eyes and that eternal smile. Instead, his sparkling blueish-grey eyes led most Goans to call him “paklo” (whitey … a sometime derogatory term). He was an upright man, stoic even. In a white skin, he would have been the epitome of a member of the ruling British class, if not just British upper class, dressing for dinner at home, morning suits, top hat and tails, and all that. His shirt collars were white-starched as were the cuffs of his sleeves which sported an under-stated set of cuff-links.
More often than not he wore a three-piece double breasted, worsted wool suits in stripes of grey or white on black, white on blue serge, or occasionally stunning white suits or dinner jackets of black mixed silk or white shimmering shark-skin. When he did wear his white tuxedo, he accompanied the ensemble with a diminutive (more skinny) scarlet red bowtie. In all of his life, that was perhaps his only extravagance. His leather shoes, either brown or black, had a shimmering glaze on them and at first step it was not difficult for him to see his own face reflected in them.
Everything he did was precise, correct to within a hair’s breadth of ultimate perfection. He held his head firmly on his shoulders, his neck ever erect but when he turned, his neck appeared to swivel on his shoulders. He was two metres plus tall and in a crowded room he appeared to survey his surrounding somewhat like a tall peacock. He was a man of a few words, more economic by choice than reserved by sense. He was not bereft of humour but evidence of this was presented only by the economic twitch of the muscles in his cheeks. While his photograph may have depicted him as staid (as was the want in those days of the early 1900s), he was social but here again there was an economy of engagement and effort.
Yet, for all his misunderstood aloofness, once liked he was an eternal acquaintance. This very explicit economy of action was also manifested in his drinking habits. No ale or beer of any sort passed his lips. He drank a single glass of the appropriate wine at the appropriate setting, dinner, cocktails, and sundowners, such like. Sometimes, in the company of men, he drank the lone double shot of the best Scotch whisky available at the event.
At home he allowed himself a solitary drink of his very private bottle of single malt which may have come his way by fair means or otherwise. He was educated in the ways of the holy malt by the leader of a caravan (who had probably come by it by foul means, perhaps stealing it from his super rich white clients). Hamid Bin Aslam Suleiman did not know what it was but he was sure it would please Senor Braganca or if it did not, he would wear the full brunt of the starry gaze. It was not in Senor’s nature to encourage petty pilfering but on this occasion to pursue the matter further would cause unimagined pandemonium. He followed the lone Scotch up with a chaser of water, preferably with ice whenever it was available, for the rest of the event or the night, whatever might be the case…
Braganca was a very fit man but he was not sporting superstar. He dabbled in cricket, soccer, hockey, badminton, snooker, billiards, and table tennis, whenever time allowed. There was never any bravado in success or calumny in failure. Sport was all matter of fact and a necessary action to keep the limbs supples, the tendons gentle, muscles taught, hearty of breadth, speed in his legs and arms and his wrists oiled-and-greased, so to speak. He was a staunch Roman Catholic. He would have rather died than miss Sunday Mass or any one of the great days of the Catholic calendar. At work, he stopped for a few minutes at midday to say the Angelus (a devotion commemorating the Incarnation, used to be said three times a day) and in the evening he either went to church for Benediction (short invocation for divine help, blessing and guidance, usually at the end of worship service) or said a prayer wherever he was. He also recited the Rosary more often than not sometime in the evening, kneeling on a concrete floor for more than an hour each time. He would have gone to morning Mass but an early start at work put paid to that. He was a member and benefactor of the parish St Vincent de Paul Society for the poor and offered his service to the inner sanctum of his parish whenever they were required. Naturally, he prayed first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
He was a fish eater (the staple diet of most Goans: fish curry and rice) but he ate a little of everything else.
The reader may want to think that the author is leading you up the proverbial garden path. He is too good to be true, you may be saying to yourself, especially as I write his story in this day and age in 2016. Remember, 1947 was another time especially for a young man coming out of Portuguese colony of Goa which was quaint to say the least and Catholic fundamentalist almost, ultra-religious even.
He was no saint but came close. He had his foibles and faults, but too few to stain his good character. Wonder what happened next ….

Copyright C.R.Fernandes Sydney 2016

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