A man walks into a town. He walks out of the sun and down the main street. To his left there are wooden shacks, a shambles of bullet ridden planks and bent nails. To his right a gang of teen and preteen boys carrying automatic rifles lounge in the shade provided by a huge oil palm. When these boys see the man for the first time they are too stunned to react, or rather to be stunned is their reaction.
The man is white. How could a white man dressed in khaki combats and a Bermuda shirt possibly have appeared in the centre of this eternal war zone. He should have been chopped, he should have been beaten, raped, killed. But here he was. Probably a hundred miles from the nearest city. It was the cities where all the other white people stayed, behind the protection of marginal civilisation and the UN forces.
The man waved hello. Gave the boys a happy smile.
“weeeoooo, boy what the fuck are you doing?” Jusu, the oldest boy there said. He was the general of this cadre. If the white mans presence unsettled anyone, it was Jusu who felt it most. Any thing out of the usual was out of his control and he couldn’t allow that. He had managed to live the senior age of eighteen by being master of all he surveyed, with the exception of course, of his RUF commanders.
Jusu rose, a huge grin on his face, the other boys stood to follow his lead. This white boy, what a mistake, what a fool. They all began to giggle and then laugh at the ridiculous situation that this man had put himself in.
“sure is a hot one isn’t it” the White man said. He removed his hat and used it to mop his brow to illustrate the statement. He continued to smile warmly to the boys as they began to surround him. Some clucked, others cooed, they all had wide eyes. Disbelief still hadn’t faded.
“out for a walk white boy?” Jusu asked.
“yeah, ya out for a walk”
“he’s jus out for a walk”
“What do you say White boy?”
The boys all echoed the question and the white man tried to take in all of the dozen or so voices that were shouting at once. He smiled.
“You a long way from home man” Jusu prodded with his gun as he said this. The other boys all began raising their own rifles jabbing them upward and toward the newcomer.
It was at this point that they all simply stopped. They stopped posturing, they stopped shouting, they stopped laughing. They all of a sudden became as calm as Hindu cows. Gun barrels dropped to the ground, handles hanging loosely in their hands.
“Ok” the white man said “so now we can talk.”
The man was not brave. The reason he was not afraid of attack was simple. He would never be attacked.
No one would ever attack him. He had been attacked once but never again.
When he was a very small boy, He had been caught in a fight between his neighbour and a local malcontent. He had wondered into his back yard and out into the alley. The fight had started some minutes before and it had escalated to a fury when he wondered out the back gate. He had been caught by a kick aimed at his neighbour, caught full in the head. The instant he was hit he went down, and the horror that the assailant felt for what he had done was instant. That horror at kicking an innocent sucked all the anger out of him. The two fighters instantly forgot their quarrel and worked together to get help. The boy recovered after a bought in the hospital. But that horrific injustice created an aura of peace around the boy. As if fate would not allow him any further misfortune.
When he was a bit older he learnt that he could do anything, antagonise any one. He never got hit. No matter how angry people become with him, no matter how vicious and violent they were as people, they could not attack him.
Something in him meant that no one would ever, could ever attack him. A look in his eye or the way he held his body. He inspired a feeling of calm and safety that meant no one could bring themselves to do him harm. Not that he couldn’t be hurt. He’d had all the grazed knees and split lips that any normal person had had. It’s just that whenever he’d gotten hurt, it was only ever his own stupid fault.
So now Africa. He has built to this. He has put himself in ever more violent and unpredictable places to test the true extent of this anomaly that surrounded him. It began in the playground with the school bully, moved onto gangs of bigger kids. He would taunt them and push them, became skilled at saying just the wrong thing. Still nothing. When he was older he went to the pubs and clubs, provoked drunks and drug addicts. Nothing. Slowly as he became more confident in his safety he began ‘warzone holiday making’. Surrounded by bedroom pschos and ex-army adrenaline junkies he learnt that no matter what crazy situation he walked into, he always walked out. Unfortunately the same could not be said of some of his fellow holiday makers.
Now he had decided to put himself through the ultimate test. Sierra Leone.
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