Misbeliever - Chapter 5
Posted: 30 January 2006
Word Count: 2976
Summary: Turn over your doubts
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.
Turn over your doubts and spread your arms apart.
Submit and be saved by the light in his heart,
And your soul will be once more, a joyous place.
Israel: One week later…
It was midmorning in Jerusalem and the call to prayer was once again creating an atmosphere of otherworldliness as it reverberated around the old city. It was also the day before Jacob was to set off for Ghana. He was in fact just finding that out as he sat for the second time on the other side of Richeloe’s desk and wondered how it came to be that he was now taking orders, when he always swore that he would never work for anybody but himself.
He was to leave immediately for Africa, West Africa in fact or Ghana to be precise.
It seemed unlikely that the Church would keep such sensitive material in Africa. As Jacob had witnessed the day before, Richeloe kept the papers in his charge under such complicated restriction it was more than a little odd to hear that similar material had been placed in the hands of some African librarian.
Jacob was no racist, he didn’t think so anyway, but he was pretty sure that all these African countries were corrupt and dangerous. No, Jacob was definitely not a racist.
It didn’t make sense. Why Ghana? It was a serious question. So Jacob asked it, if not in expectation of a coherent answer then, at least with the hope of looking vaguely intelligent.
When Richeloe answered it was as usual, hazy and sermonised, the man obviously accustomed to preaching.
‘You have no understanding,’ he told Jacob, ‘of the simple honour bequeathed upon the African Christian.’
‘Bequeathed?’ asked Jacob, now there was a word that should have gone down with the Titanic.
‘And!’ Richeloe interrupted with a tired schoolteacher’s harshness. ‘The key is not why, young man. The key is where.’ Jacob rolled his eyes but listened all the same. Richeloe continued as though he hadn’t noticed the slight so Jacob began spinning his pencil between his fingers as annoyingly as possible. It wasn’t enough and the Scribe continued with his speech unaffected.
‘A clever location can be as effective, nay, more effective than locks or metals doors,’ Richeloe continued, ‘because, though combinations and chains may be cracked, a secret my young friend, is sacred.’ Jacob missed a spin and the pencil dropped on the table. He reached for it again and Richeloe paused to grip Jacob’s hand over the dark hard desk. The Scribe’s face tightened as he leaned forwards. His expression turned churlish and the coiled cunning that lay beneath the surface was suddenly revealed. Cunning, that now hovered only a few inches from Jacob’s barely contained surprise.
‘You will keep this secret too, young Jacob.’ The expression never changed. ‘You will not crack.’
Jacob gulped. Did Richeloe know about the Americans, or was it a test? No, he couldn’t know. What would the old man do if he found out that some of the documents that he had handed over to Jacob only yesterday were now in the possession of a third party? Could they hurt him, or harm Maria? Jacob recalled the sensation of having a gun held to his back, and the memory assured him of how serious all of this really was. The moment of tension passed, however and it seemed that Jacob had gotten away with his betrayal so far.
‘Eh?’ asked Richeloe the amiable softness returning, the frightening grimace receding. ‘You understand, yes?’
‘Yeah sure.’ Jacob nodded weakly freeing his hand from the others grasp. The white pressure mark remained for a moment, his fingers tingling for a few seconds longer. The old man’s body was weak, but his spirit was solid and fervent enough to supply him with great strength. Jacob could feel the sweat dampening his back.
‘When do I leave?’ He asked with a feeble smile. What have I gotten myself into? He thought. Richeloe rose and went to the door opening it.
‘Well, off you go,’ He said, ‘I’ll send a boy round to your hostel with your flight details. You leave tomorrow.’ Jacob had little choice but to take his cue and leave.
‘Oh Jacob,’ Richeloe added as Jacob tried not to rush through the doorway, ‘you will take car of the documents I have given you. They are worth a great deal.’ Jacob was at eye level with Richeloe and he was sure he saw, for a moment, a twinkle of acknowledgement in the scribe’s. Surely he didn’t know.
‘Absolutely,’ Jacob answered with a flinch or delay. Well, he thought, may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, eh?
Two days after leaving Israel Jacob set foot in the airless terminal building of Kotoka Airport in Accra, Ghana. He still felt uncomfortable about his lying to the old scribe, bet what else could he have said.
‘Actually Richeloe, I only have a few of those scrolls left. I gave the rest to an American guy with a gun, you know how it is?’
Jacob stopped worrying for a moment and paused to catch his breath. There were butterflies in his stomach engineering a hurricane in his chest and the heat was making him feint. It was seven o’clock on Saturday morning and he felt so alone. He wanted to see Becky’s face, or at least to hear her squeaky little voice giggling at his crap jokes and cheering him with her own.
The Airport was an Airport and nothing more. A sluggish queue, a brief moment of panic over his misplaced passport and he was free of it. His mood was darkening. Becky was in London now and there was no time difference between them, it seemed like a hundred years since he’s left her in Tel Aviv and a thousand since they’d met only a week before. He couldn’t call her at this hour. He would sound desperate and uncool. Sleep, if it came, would have to do him for now.
Outside in the early light Jacob found that getting a taxi in Accra was never going to be a problem. Dozens of taxi drivers accosted him as soon as the automatic doors whooshed open. They shouted prices at him and tried to lead him away. He caught himself about to snap at one of the black men talking loudly, shouting prices in his ear. Calm yourself Jacob, he ordered himself, this is probably worth a lot to them.
‘Let me see, how much? Twenty five thousand, twenty thousand?’ He hadn’t thought to learn the exchange rate and he was loath to take out his lonely planet to see whether he was getting robbed or not. Jacob decided to trust his judgement and picked a bearded driver with a pleasant smile, as the other drivers had neither. Jacob knew he was a useless judge of character so a little humour was his only option.
Tee hee, he thought.
After negotiating the car park Jacob’s driver led him down the main airport road to where his taxi awaited. Climbing into the front of the rickety yellow and brown painted car Jacob quizzed his new African friend about decent hotels in the embassy district. He was ready for bed but later he was thinking of taking advantage of the trip and visiting some other countries in West Africa. That plus laziness caused him to choose accommodation near the embassies of Mali and Burkina Faso, so as to avoid any unnecessary walking. Jacob had seen the name Timbuktu on the map and couldn’t believe his luck. Was it a real place? He couldn’t wait to be half way there. He let out a huge yawn and began thinking again of a nice soft bed. After sleep, he could do things.
‘Not too expensive of course.’ He told the taxi driver who didn’t respond. ‘Any suggestions?’ He tried again. George the pleasantly bearded Taxi man had three.
‘Hotel California’ Jacob exclaimed at the second. That would do perfectly. Pleased with the idea he settled back and thought for a moment of the writings that were left in his carry-on bag and his mood slumped once more. The things that were written on those pages!
So far he’d read about Jesus as a soldier. He’d learned that Jesus name was actually Joshua and, on the corner of a boorish account of a suspicious arson, that Jesus, sorry… Joshua was punished for by the village elders, he’d found a spot of blood, or ketchup. No, it was definitely blood. It gave him a shock to realise it, but he felt an unwelcome idea building slowly in the part of his head that he usually gave the most freedom.
He flinched away from the disturbing thoughts and he refocused himself on Jesus, sorry… Joshua. How could he spin Joshua’s service in the army? After reading it, it seemed logical that the Pre-Lord had served his time in the local militia. The Romans were ruling the country at the time and they demanded that a certain amount of young men be forced into the service, if only to free up centurions for more important front line duties.
Concentrating Jacob began to spin the idea around. He could write about some great epiphany on the eve of Joshua’s first battle, though the records showed him surviving at least three. Such a revelation could easily have caused Joshua to rethink a military career, but what?
The taxi entered the city of Accra as Jacob stared out into space and the clay secondary roads flicked by under his blinded gaze. The car jerked suddenly and Jacob was shaken free from his hazy storyline visualisations.
Then he saw it, Accra. It was right in front of his eyes and he had been letting it go by!
The dirt road they were currently on had rickety stalls set up along on either side for as far as the sun would allow his eyes to see. The stalls were full of… everything. There were people carrying massive silver bowls on their heads, filled with bundles of cloth or stacks of fruit, handheld stereos and handkerchiefs. Women with children on their backs wrapped tightly in coloured fabric, their large behinds serving as a shelf, big enough for the child to ride comfortably in sleep or look out sideways at the crowd. While stopped at a Junction one such child with only a ribbon to belie her gender, gawked at Jacob with wide eyes from her perch behind a woman he supposed was her mother. Jacob smiled at her and the child burst into tears and turned quickly away, and then he noticed his reflection in the window. He was so damn white! It must have been a big shock to the child living in such a black place.
Here it was, Africa.
The streets were a shock to the system. Where were the buildings? Was this entire city comprised of shack like shops and dirt roads? It was so poor looking.
But he shouldn’t think like that. This was a different world, there was no point being a total snob about it, and turning up his nose at a city he knew nothing about, at a culture he hadn’t even begun to understand.
Keep your mind open, he told himself and sank back into the leopard skin upholstery. He was in Africa and it was the only positive side effect to this mysterious adventure, but he had little time to enjoy it. He had to think of Joshua and the book he was already beginning to hate. And he hadn’t yet written a word.
So Joshua didn’t stay with the military? How would he write the Lord out of that? Not cowardice of course, but a memory of an Aramathean playmate from the same region where Joshua would soon be battling. Yes, that would do. Rebellion rather than cowardice, that was the way to go.
Would that be enough for Richeloe and the Archbishops? No, he guessed that it would not be, but the real problem was that he wasn’t sure what would. There were too many records conflicting with each other. Most likely he would have to include all of Joshua’s war records and give reasonable explanation for the Lord’s murderous past. And, what of the scrolls he had handed over to the American? What secrets did they hold that he would now never discover?
Corner cutting already, he thought. That was no way to write a book.
The Taxi stopped alongside a massive stack of rubble between two buildings. Here stood, - figuratively speaking- the now closed, Hotel California.
‘It looks deserted,’ Jacob stated, pointing to the empty space. ‘Is this it George?’ he added, anger rising. ‘Am I suppose to get a fucking room in there?’ A bird landed on the demolished hotel and cawed at him. Jacob suddenly felt the need to kill something. The bird, however, was a mere innocent.
‘No’ George answered. Nothing about the driver belied surprise. He just sat there waiting for Jacob as if the white man had just climbed in.
‘Did you know?’ he asked, but George said nothing. ‘Hey, you fuckin asshole! Did you know this place was… gone?’
‘Then why?’ Jacob was shocked. ‘Are you stupid?’ Jacob asked him. George turned around, looking upset now.
‘Eh! Why you say that?’ he asked ‘I wan-ted to go to a Ho-tel” Jacob mouthed, ‘to sleeeep in!’ George looked deeply hurt now. ‘Take me to an open Hotel now!’ Jacob raged ‘Hurry.’
Jacob fell back into his seat. ‘Un-fucking believable.’ He mumbled through clenched Jaws.
George took off, grumbling and beeping his horn somewhat randomly at the other cars on the road, mostly Taxis, as he went. Jacob imagined it a code.
‘Beep-beep-tourist-coming-through-beep’ Or maybe it was, ‘I’m-a-big-beep-bearded-idiot-beep-beep-beep!’ Jacob was peeved and as they drove through Accra spent the next ten minutes grievously injuring his new Ghanaian friend with imaginary pitchforks.
Eventually the Taxi stopped outside the actually photogenic ‘Lemon Lodge’ on the decidedly fruitless Mango Tree Avenue. It was in a district called Asylum Down and when Jacob read the address in his guidebook it made him smile. Perfect, he thought.
George helped Jacob out with his bags. Jacob’s large rucksack, a veteran from his backpacking days, was very heavy and it surprised the driver who stumbled under the weight. Grinning, Jacob steeled himself and took the bag off him hefting it onto his back, sharing the bulk evenly over his frame and pretending that it weighed him down no more than schoolbag would. Then Jacob handed the Ghanaian his smaller knapsack and noticed the annoyed look on George’s face. In the “lobby”, a room that was neither outside nor in, Jacob took the bag back from him.
‘Twenty thousand?’ he asked doubtfully, knowing that George would probably demand double that for his round trip here.
‘Oh no, now,’ began the bearded weirdo.
‘Forget about Hotel California,’ Jacob ordered. ‘I’ll pay you from the Airport to here.’
‘Fifty thousand’ George tried - you had to admire that gall of the man-
‘I won’t pay more than twenty five’ Jacob argued only for the sake of it, he was tiring of this tourist’s pretence but was far too stubborn to just let it go, as far as he was concerned, tourists always pay more, and it was probably the equivalent of a quid, but it’s wrong to rip people off, full stop.
Jacob paid forty-six in the end.
George was guilty, Jacob decided, and shouldn’t get away with it.
Inside Jacob found four Africans standing at the desk. He asked each one in turn for single room for three days. After a long silence one of them called out something to the air and received a short answer from a deep male voice. Jacob asked again.
‘Can I get a single room for three days?’ he asked and once more the four Ghanaians just look at him. Jacob felt his blood begin to shoot around his body as his heart picked up its pace. He growled quietly under his breath and focused on the oldest male, asking again.
The man tsk’d him and said something wearily to the youngest, a boy really. The boy humpf’d and moaned before the oldest man spoke again roughly and he sloped out through the door behind the counter. There was an excruciating pause before Jacob began to shout. - The words “Stupid” and “Fuck” featured continuously-
The slackers began to laugh as the boy returned with another man, stopping Jacobs ranting immediately. This one was huge and fat, with greying hair. Even before he spoke the others were scampering off out the front door. He shouted after them and Jacob felt like shouting “Yeah!” in agreement.
‘Now sir.’ said the man. ‘You would like a room?’
‘Yes.’ said Jacob. ‘Yes I would.’
Jacob paid the man up front. Three days should be enough, he thought. He could relax here a while and get adjusted before going to the beach. Then was due in Kumasi on Thursday. But first He would have a rest and then he would write a little, if he could.
‘Is your first time in Ghana?’ asked the fat man behind the counter.
‘Yeah,’ Said Jacob.
‘You will enjoy it yes,’ He was told. Jacob thought about Daniel and Maria, and about Joshua and Becky.
‘I doubt it.’ Jacob said and began climbing the stairs to his room.
Take a step back in time, a week to be exact. Back to Jacob's first day in Israel and meet Becky for the first time, and witness another beginning, of which in life there are so many, but none as important as this one, because there is little that is more important than love.
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