COLLINS

Into Africa
by Clive Collins

We were young and only two years wed, but had already moved three times and now, after a year in Edinburgh, were to go to Freetown, Sierra Leone, on the West Coast of Africa. Flurried weeks of visas, medicals, inoculations that conjured our upper arms into painful party balloons, notice given to landlord and employers, goodbyes begun, and then the movers came.

Burly men with quiet voices, they arrived one morning, cleared a space in our sitting room and told us to put everything we wanted packed in the middle of it. They would return in the afternoon. So much had already been discarded — the sentimental detritus of life — that our pile, when it was done, was not a large one: kitchenware, crockery, a kettle, two teapots, bed linen, books, record albums, our cheap hi-fi, and two table lamps. Set out on our landlord’s red carpet, it did not seem much. Packed into boxes after the movers were done, it seemed less.

We flew to Africa from London one warm late September afternoon, read Journey Without Maps and The Heart of the Matter on the plane, and landed at Lunghi Airport, where there was no one to meet us. We took a bus, rode a ferry across a wide brown river, and, finally, went by taxi up a high hill known locally as a mountain. That night, we clung together on a damp bed inside a tiny house the walls of which mould had coloured an extravagant shade of green. Outside lightning bolts burst in the surrounding forest and floodwater rose up to the windowsills. Weeks passed. We were given a better house. Our boxes came. We unpacked and in the lamp-lit evening felt at home, which, until we moved again six years later, we were.

IMAGE: At home in Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In 1974, I accepted a lectureship at Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone. This piece attempts to compress the sense of hectic dislodgement and gradual resettlement that I experienced at that time.

Author Photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Clive Collins is the author of two novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars) and Sachiko’s Wedding (Marion Boyars/Penguin Books). Misunderstandings, a collection of short stories, was joint-winner of the Macmillan Silver PEN Award in 1994. He was a short-listed finalist in the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. More recently his work has appeared online and in print in magazines such as Penny, Local Nomad, The Story Shack, and terrain.org.