Freetown Bicentenary, 1987

Freetown at dusk is almost
beautiful, viewed from above
through the moist sea
atmosphere that softens the focus on
the rust-ravaged zinc
pan roofs and the broken up pavements with their growing
scars and hopeless pock
marks like a photographer who
knows how to shoot a once-
lovely face now stitched
piecemeal from purple
patches. Directly below
the shadows merge and thicken into
pools of dark
acquiescence lit waveringly
here and there by candles while
the hillsides sparkle with the
white jewels of electricity.

Downtown, the people have emerged to
reclaim the streets from the daytime
occupiers: diplomats, soldiers, and businessmen.
Night is their abode, a period of
respite from the endless heat
of sub-Saharan crises, a time
in which the litany of "No condition
is permanent" is discernible in the blaring
transistor radios and in the sinuously swaying
bodies that respond more to the
garbled music of some distant
dream-like country than to the ponderous pathos
of the here-and-now. Even the graffito
("DE AFRICAN TOURIST") illuminated
by the kerosene lamp of a woman selling
fried sweet potatoes with
fish-pepper sauce
resonates with an ephemeral clairvoyance as if one
transparent night they will simply climb aboard a
long-defunct train and be
carried off to a cooler, stiller dawn.

Down by the Government Wharf, a
prostitute leans out from
a second-storey
window, smoking a filterless
Tabaca, gazing listlessly at nothing.
A dog pauses below,
sniffing at the remains of a lizard.
Out on the bay the ferry is
receding, burdened with the
load of those who want
to reach the other side.

Return to travel story list.
Copyright 1988, John Nagamichi Cho