The tall black man with the wrinkles on his skin of someone who’d seen more than his fair share of the world’s troubles had been stood by the road so long he couldn’t feel his legs. Not that the cold was a change in the UK. The rain had already soaked its way through the only clothes Amadu had managed to leave with. Most of his other gear had ended up in the street. He shunted his bag to the other shoulder and spat.
‘Go ruin someone elses life…’
He paused, thinking. He’d have to invent a new term to describe how he felt. Bitch had lost its bite after leaving his lips the hundredth time.
‘Should have seen it coming my friend. All the signs were there,’ muttered Amadu to himself.
Truth be told he’d had more than an inkling what was coming to him. He just hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it.
Amadu could hear his father’s voice now.
“The woman’s no good, son. Everyone can see her games when she’s walking with you.”
He watched the mist coil in the gloom. The octogenarian who’d given him his last lift had said this was a good place to get another ride, and it probably had been back when there were still horses and carts on the roads. Now the crossroads looked as empty as the hole in his chest.
When the hearse slid into view for a moment Amadu wondered if he was seeing things. The vehicle was as silent as the countryside lurking on the other side of the hedge – not to mention the nature of its occupation. Amadu made a quick decision and extended one shivering thumb in its direction. There was nothing like desperation to make you take your chances, besides, maybe the driver was on his break.
‘Come on mate, please.’
Anything had to be better than freezing his nutsack off glued to the rain swept tarmac. But he needn’t have worried as the vehicle glided to a halt.
‘For a moment there I thought you weren’t going to stop.’
Amadu was trying not to think too hard about where the vehicles wheels met the road. They were so buried in fog the car might as well have been sat on a cloud. Still, at least it wasn’t moving.
‘No problem my friend. I’ll give you a lift, after all what would I be if I didn’t stop for a fellow traveller on a night like this?’
The driver looked blacker than the burnt souls who’d toiled in the pits they’d been sent to guard back in the homeland and gold winked from each of the man’s teeth as he grinned. Amadu shivered.
‘Where’re you from? I don’t recognise that accent,’ said Amadu.
‘You could call me a man of the world. I get about too much to call one country home, but seeing as you ask, I’ve been spending a bit of time on the Slave Coast recently. There’s so much to be see and do there. You been waiting long?’ said the man.
‘You’d be surprised. I must have watched twenty cars pass by. There’s been nothing for ages now. People don’t like picking up hitchers after the watershed.’
‘A sign of the times no doubt, get in.’
For a moment Amadu hesitated. The man was grinning, but there was something in his eyes that sent a different message.
‘Yeah, course, I’m trying to get to Reading. I’ve got a mate there that’ll put me up for the night.’
‘Have a row with your lady, did you?’
‘Something like that. I’m Amadu by the way.’
Amadu frowned, he’d heard that name before on a darker hotter continent. But the car was pulling away from the curb as silently as it had appeared and he was suddenly awash with relief. It took a moment for him to say anything but there was no point ignoring the elephant in the room for long.
‘This is a hearse isn’t it?’
‘Yes, my friend. It’s one of the earlier models; an ’83 Cadillac Superior, my current pride and joy.’
Amadu was silent as he processed the information. He was either in the presence of a complete psycho or the sort of man that kept car magazines under the bed. Carefully he said, ‘Where’re you headed?’
‘I’ve an appointment to keep.’
The man gestured over his shoulder.
There was even a coffin in the back.
‘I hope that’s empty.’
Amadu laughed and the driver looked at him again, although it was dark now the interior light had switched off. Amadu was glad of that. He didn’t want to see the expression in those eyes.
‘I’d watch the road if I were you.’
‘Of course, my mistake,’ said the man tugging the wheel down and the car slid past a fallen branch. Amadu waited for the squeal of rubber, but there was nothing. He was beginning to think how funny it was that you could sweat even on a night as cold as this.
‘You can drop me at the next services when we see one. It’s just these back roads that are a problem. I‘ll get a lift with a truck driver. There’ll be one doing the night shift for sure.’
Amadu paused, and took a deep breath.
‘Don’t worry I’m headed the same direction as you. You’ll end up where you should be going, I promise.’
The driver glanced over again, but this time his gaze didn’t linger.
‘I’ll be picking up some friends on the way. I hope you don’t mind the company.’
‘No mate, not a problem with me. They all going to the funeral then?’
‘No, that’s still to come. They just want to pay their respects that’s all.’
‘Can I ask what happened?’
It was, Amadu had buried enough faces in his past to know you didn’t pry if that wasn’t what was wanted.
He was still thinking it when the car swerved again.
Amadu looked at the drowned figure picked out in the hearse’s headlights. Something about the way the man stood reminded him of someone. When the hitcher got in, he could see why. There was the familiar camouflage jacket and beret too. The man was army, God knew what he was doing stood by the side of a highway in winter.
Amadu grinned and offered his hand, but all it did was hover. The man didn’t move an inch.
‘Suit yourself,’ said Amadu shifting his gaze to the window. He liked being this far out of town. Even on a dark night there were barely any lights to be seen and you could feel the countryside all around. It was just that try as he might to relax; he couldn’t do it. It felt like someone was sat at the top of his spine like a hammer. He looked over his shoulder and snapped his eyes back to the view. The man in the back was staring at him with a face as white as the lines in the middle of the road. Amadu knew where he’d seen him before now. Him and his friends had been sent over on one of the missions to sort the homelands problems out. He hadn’t lasted long.
‘Jesus, and all the Saints.’
It had been a long time since Amadu had prayed, but he couldn’t stop the words leaving his lips although he kept them to a whisper. He’d never gotten a lift with a corpse before, let alone two.
‘Ah, another friend,’ said the driver.
This time the figure was a woman, and one that had no right to be standing by a roadside at any hour of the day or night. Even her clothes looked like they’d never been touched by dirt.
Amadu tried to keep his eyes from her legs as she unrolled into the seat. He knew where she’d come from too.
Before long the car was packed, and Amadu was trying hard to keep from losing it entirely. They were all there, all the faces he wanted to forget so much; not that any of them were saying anything; at least not yet. Amadu was barely keeping his eyes in his head, and he’d long lost any desire to see what was over his shoulder. It was bad enough having to watch them get in.
‘This can’t be happening. It’s not real.’
‘What’s that my friend? You sound like you’re talking to yourself. Everything alright?’
There was a grin in the driver’s voice so wide it could swallow you.
‘Who’re all these people?’
‘Don’t lie to me. You know each and every one. They’re were all in that little game you played when you wanted to be rich.’
Amadu could smell the diamond fields sorting sheds in every syllable now.
‘That was a long time ago, and they’re dead… all of them.’
‘Of course, they are, but that doesn’t stop them wanting to see you again does it? Why don’t you ask them?’
Amadu tried, but their eyes were too hard even in the gloom.
‘Lost your tongue? Why don’t you sit back and relax then? We’ll be there soon.’
But Amadu wasn’t listening. He had other things on his mind.
It had been a big works, he remembered that much. But the only people that got rich stayed a million miles from breaking their backs in the sun. He turned to the woman, he owed her that much.
‘You shouldn’t be here.’
She was still beautiful, that was the amazing thing.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Amadu but her face didn’t so much as twitch and he found himself gazing at her chest waiting for it to rise and fall. But the reassuring movement never came; he’d made sure of that a long time ago.
‘Enjoying getting to know each other again?’ said their driver.
‘Why the hell would I be doing that?’
‘Well they do say some things are worth remembering.’
‘Not to me they’re not. It’s was over a long time ago. They don’t belong here now, different time, different country, different life.’
Of course, my friend.’
The grin was back. For a moment Amadu wanted to knock those gold teeth all over the dash, whoever the driver was nobody deserved this. Amadu opened his mouth to tell him, but the man was faster.
‘We’re here. Get out and let me show you around.’
Amadu didn’t know how he’d done it, but they’d found the field that had left so many echoes in his head. Except this one had no sun. The pits were there though, and he wondered if each muddy waterlogged hole had its meagre crop of diamonds resting at the bottom. Amadu’s lips formed a silent prayer. All that was missing was the flies. There’d been so many of them at the end the ground had buzzed, but this was England not Africa wasn’t it? He shook himself.
‘I didn’t do it all.’
‘You’re right, you didn’t, but there’s been others like you and the stories always the same. You come, you see, and you want to take everything; no matter how many stand in your way. The only things that’s different is the weapons.’
‘But this many?’
The grave markers stretch away as far as he can see and Amadu got the feeling there were more hidden by the mist.
He had, but it had come back anyway. When he closed his eyes, he could still hear the sound the clubs had made when they’d run out of bullets.
‘You know your little insurance policy is all still there.’
‘What use is that to me? I can’t go back,’ said Amadu. ‘They’d string me up from the nearest tree.’
‘You don’t have to. Your friends have a little surprise for you.’
Amadu felt cold fingers at his back. While he’d been looking out into the night his fellow passengers had crept close enough he could see the damage his work had done. He wanted to resist, but there was no refusing them, or the look in their eyes. Amadu followed as meekly as a lamb, curious despite himself.
‘See,’ said the nearest of the hitchers and he followed its finger. The man was a merchant. He’d been one of the ones to use his family’s names as a shield. A lot of them tried that when it came to the end.
‘Who are you?’
The figure in the pit kept his back to them but Amadu already knew the answer to the question. The dull thump of wood hitting bone beat through the air without a pause. It had been hard work. There’d been so many of them that wouldn’t listen to reason.
‘That’s not me anymore. I’ve changed.’
He shook his head. Amadu had never been that good at mind games. He’d opened his mouth to fill the void without him being able to stop himself.
‘I’m not the same person. Life moves on.’
‘For you perhaps.’
That had come from the man thigh deep in the digs grime. Amadu’s feet crept backwards. He didn’t want to see.
Amadu stared at a face washed in blood. He remembered now; he’d bitten his cheeks to stop laughing after the third. The brown brown he’d spent half his life on back then had made the killing seem like a cartoon.
‘Come,’ said Amadu’s twin tossing the club at his feet and stepping away from his work. Amadu felt a shove and he was stumbling through the mire. He kept his feet, but only just.
‘Go with him; he has something to show you,’ said Kongolie. ‘Something that will make up for your trials.’
Amadu would have turned and run then, but as he looked up he could see how far that would get him. His victims had lined up like they were at a feast. They didn’t follow though, that was left to him. It proved to be a lonely journey stepping after the back still covered with the shreds of the old familiar uniform. When they stopped at first Amadu didn’t recognize the spot. He’d long since scrubbed the madness from his mind and tried to drown what had caused it along with it.
‘They’re still here?’
‘You’ll see,’ said his twin from his spot by Amadu’s side, faithful as a dog eager for the kill. ‘I kept them safe for you.’
The killer was on his knees again scrabbling at the dirt with his fingers. But it was what he was revealing that really drew Amadu’s eye. They talked of gold fever in different parts of the coast, but here in the fields of home it was diamonds that took the prize.
‘Made sure no one would find them. Nobody knows where they’re buried, but me,’ said the ghoul digging through the dirt. ‘Now you do too.’
‘But this isn’t real.’
‘Keep telling yourself that.’
The younger version of him was at his side so fast Amadu never saw him move.
‘They’d have wanted them back. You understand, don’t you? I had to do it.’
For a moment Amadu swore he could see tears in the kid’s eyes.
‘It’s done. You’ll have plenty of time for regrets later, now go.’
His twin’s shoulders slump as if a spring had snapped.
‘Men with guns will come. You’ll run then.’
Amadu didn’t know what would happen in this place and time if this incarnation died, but he’d prefer not to risk it.
Old recriminations howled through him as he fell to his knees in turn. It wasn’t just dirt that had been disturbed by the ghoul’s fingers. Here was the gleam of something else in the soil. Amadu’s eyes sparkled.
‘I’d forgotten how beautiful they looked.’
The diamonds were everywhere like stars fallen from the sky.
‘You found them didn’t you. I knew you would with his help.’
Kongolie’s voice when it reached his ears sounded smug.
‘Stay away, they’re mine,’ said Amadu.
‘Or what Amadu? I could take them as easy as I took your woman.’
As Amadu looked over his shoulder the driver’s face burns away from a heat he couldn’t see to be replaced by another.
‘Why else do you think she kicked you out?’
Amadu was up in seconds, diamonds spilling from his grasp.
‘Calm down, there’s nothing that can be done about it now is there?’
Amadu wasn’t listening as something took his feet from under him as fast as he’d risen. He lay on his back for a while watching the heavens wheel overhead. He’d have put words to the rage bubbling deep inside him if he could have found a voice to do it. Finally, he sucked air between his teeth.
‘I’ll kill you.’
‘You’ll be a long time trying that my friend.’
‘Amadu gasped as the weight pressing him into the mud increased.
Amadu tried to nod, there was no point joining the others lying under the soil around here.
‘Let me go.’
He was still looking at the sky as he felt the pressure lessen.
‘You want to keep them? I’ll throw in the real love of your life whilst I’m at it.’
There was something hidden behind the words Amadu hadn’t heard until then.
‘Because I’m offering you it all back. Everything you lost. All you have to do is one thing for me.’
Amadu had heard infants with the slyness of that request many times. The driver could have been begging for a second helping at dinner. He stood on his feet and shook his head. They were back. His forgotten audience had returned whilst he’d been fighting to breathe through the mud.
‘Like this? She looks a bit past her sell by date.’
The thing was he knew he was lying even as he said it. The others might look like they would have been better off in the grave where they belonged, but the white clad woman stood out like lightning amongst dead wood.
He’d never forgotten her name even amongst all the other memories he’d tried to bury so hard.
‘I shouldn’t have done it. You told me not to….and then…’
Amadu tailed off, but he needn’t have worried. There was no anger in those milk white eyes. On the contrary her cracked lips were already parting in a smile. Time had done nothing to damage her beauty, not like the others. She was already holding her arms out to him.
Amadu wanted the promises offered by her embrace more than he’d wanted anything right then, even the broken shards of stone under his feet were forgotten as he scrambled up the dig’s side.
‘Wait, you can have her and your toys, but you give me what I want first.’
‘And that is?’
‘You know what I’m going to ask. You knew that the first moment you saw me. Now what’s it to be her and your wealth or that worthless scrap of nothing that animates you?’ said the driver.
‘You mean my soul? Have it it’s yours. I’ve never found any use for it anyway.’
‘Good boy. I knew you wouldn’t mess me around, and it’s given freely I take it? I have to ask. There are rules that must be obeyed.’
‘Then enjoy your time with her. It will last as long as you wish.’
Amadu wasn’t listening. It was like he’d never been away all he could do was stare at her face. Grace pulled him gently with her. She hadn’t spoken but he knew without her saying that it was time to go.
‘Just like the old days.’
She nodded and smiled.
Amadu stepped after Grace, whose hand he’d taken as the first shots of the war were fired. As they stepped into the jungle the driver heard the start of it with a smile on his face and a look at his watch. The woman was the first to speak.
‘What took you so long?’
‘You know what it’s like being dead?’
‘You’re a murderer. You know that?’
And you’re no good my father always said that. He was right.’
The devil called Kongolie smiled and turned back to its hearse.
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