Read the book on Kindle or paperback on
This is my passport page showing the date I entered Mozambique. One year later the Portuguese revolution started and the colony broke apart. I hope you enjoy the excerpt!
The little Mini eats up the miles on our way back from the Limpopo, and now I see on the eastern horizon the glow of Lorenzo Marques. Lightning stabs the clouds, revealing yellowed curtains of rain drawn across the chasing storm. The first shower pelts the windshield. The visibility is meager, I’m guessing probably no more than seventy-five feet, and my guess is confirmed when we approach a sandbagged barrier sign lit by a hurricane lamp, warning us to stop—one hundred feet. I slow, and the outline of a military roadblock appears through the rain. Steve scans the radio for any English-speaking stations but finds only the booming, echoing voices and the same song on almost every channel. We try to make out the lyrics, which keeps repeating, “terra da fraternidade.” At first it sounded like a folk song, but it’s now sounding like a song of protest, of liberty, of equality—fraternity. For whom?
A government soldier materializes at the car window on Steve’s side. My heart pounds in my chest. The soldier asks for our papers and I give my South African passport to Steve, who hands it to the guard along with his own. While the wipers continue to beat their steady rhythm, I watch the soldier’s wet hands riffle through first one passport, then the other. When he hands the passports back through the window I take a breath in pure relief.
The soldier is pointing, but from where I’m sitting behind the wheel I can’t see where he wants us to go. Steve is arguing, trying to tell him we want to continue on the highway, but the soldier bends down and speaks to me through the window, pointing to a side road that leads into the city. I nod in compliance and he steps away. I make the turn and pull away slowly.
“We’re going into the city,” I say. “This is not good.”
“No shit,” he says. “Let’s see if we can skirt the downtown area. The rain will help us.”
I switch off the radio blaring its frantic, urgent messages. At an intersection, we decide I’ll make a right, but change our minds when we see an ambulance and a fire truck pass us going in that direction.
“I’m thinking of Joaquim. If we could find a phone that was working we could call him and find out what is going on.”
And I could tell Joaquim of my plan. But I have no idea how to get a number for him.
“Didn’t you say he lived above a bar?” Steve says with surprising clarity. He is back—vital, full of energy.
“That’s it. The Good Times Bar. Let’s fill up at the next station and see if we can find a phone.”
The traffic has thickened and many of the vehicles are military. It’s not long before Steve spots a Pegasus gas station and I pull up to the pumps.
I get some escudos from him and leave him to fill up the tank while I go inside the shack. A nervous cashier sells me a map of the city. I’m wondering how to get around the main intersections.
With hope in my heart I ask the cashier if I can use his phone. He is reluctant, but I push escudos at him and he relents. I call Directory Assistance, get the number, make the call, and a barman asks what I want. My mind searches for brevity and all I come up with is, “This is Raphaello.”
“Raphaello? Wait, please,” he says and the phone rings and rings then it stops, and I hear her voice.
“Gida, it’s Raf.”
“Oh thank God. Where are you?” she asks me in her controlled but strained voice, but under it is a repressed shout, a scream reaching out to me. And I want to shout back.
“I don’t know, just outside the city,” I say. “The military are all over the place. They’re directing us toward the city.” It feels like we’re connected by a string stretched so tight it will pull my heart out.
“Listen to me,” she says, “you must try to get here. The MFA have overthrown the government in Portugal. This is the end of the estado novo—the old regime. Crowds have filled the streets of Lisbon. Workers have taken over the companies they work for. It has started here. Joaquim can keep us safe, but it’s only a matter of time before Vincense finds us.” I hear a door slam. “Please come.” The line goes dead.
I run back through the pounding rain and get into the passenger side of the car, dripping wet. I fight the fear, the dreadful impossibility.
“Go. Let’s go. Let’s go. Drive!”
Steve revs the engine and we merge into traffic. “What’s going on?” he shouts. I explain what Gida told me.
“That son of a bitch. My father made him.” Steve is hitting the steering wheel with his palm. “Listen, let’s not stick around. We’ll lie low there till after midnight, then let’s get out of the city. Maybe we can trade cars with Gida.”
“Steve, midnight will be too late. The phone went dead while we were talking. We have to go there now and get Gida and her daughter out.” I’m hanging on to the hope that she’ll still be there by the time we show up. “It might be the only way she can get away. Vincense tried to murder her… well, both of us at that intersection yesterday. And she can help us—she speaks Portuguese. Think about it.”
“I have. And I think it’s a bad idea. But we need a hideout. And it sounds like this guy Joaquim will have some ideas.”
Steve has left the door open to a possibility. He takes the boulevard that runs along the beaches into the downtown area. The government buildings are now drenched—and in front of them stand guards who are equally saturated.
“Vincense might be right,” Steve observes, “he’s expecting a bloody coup. I could see him salivating at the thought of profiting from the situation. Supplying arms for the DGS and also the army captains.”
“Those guns going to MFA, could be worse for Mozambicans than going to Frelimo,” I say.
I brace myself against the dashboard as he swerves to avoid a Land Rover that is cutting across the stream of traffic.
“What are you talking about?” he says.
He swears at a woman who has gotten out of her car in the middle of the roadway. This is not the time to be having this discussion. But then the traffic begins to move, and we pass the stalled car.
“Steve, the MFA rebellion could destabilize the country. The colonies will be swallowed up by the chaos, and it will be a cold day in hell before the Africans see any form of self-determination.”
“No. They must not hand it over to the communists.”
“I don’t think Russia cares about the Africans,” I say. “I didn’t get the impression that Antonio was listening for instructions from Russia. They’re not even well supplied. A military push from Frelimo right now would help persuade the army that it’s time to give up the fight and just hand over the country to the Africans.”
“You know, I actually agree with you.” He sounds as surprised as I am. “Not that our actions are going to change anything, but I’d love to mess with Vincense’s greedy plans.”
“Joaquim said they have common goals—MFA and Frelimo; who would have guessed? Now I get it. Let’s talk to Gida and confirm what’s going on.”
We’ve slowed to a crawl as we head down the broad esplanade with its waifish palms, beneath which the traffic is logjammed. Steve pulls into an open parking space next to the ocean wall—a good option at this point. Street vendors and fishermen stand around smoking and packing up their carts. They’re leaving, loading their nets into small boats that they towed away.
Although it’s a warm rain, we’re looking at a wet walk to Sin Street. We both get out like it’s a sunny day and set off at a stiff pace. The city lights catch the small fishing boats that seem to be lining up at the slip to be pulled out of the water.
“Look at this.” Steve turns as he walks, taking it in. “They’re leaving—everyone is getting out, or heading for international waters.”
“Right… We might get caught up in the scramble to leave. We’ll probably have to lie low there for a while.”
“Yup, if we can. Come on, let’s keep going before the rain stops.”
But the rain doesn’t stop and seeps into my shirt and although I am sweating from the exertion and humidity, a chill creeps into the small of my back. I try to avoid the pools in the sidewalk, but by now my leather shoes squelch with every step as we trudge through the flowing streets.
It’s a forty-five minute walk to Sin Street. People are running in all directions—some to get out of the rain, others chanting the slogans of the new revolution, or to escape the repercussions. The air is charged with urgency. Change has arrived, and though it is just past eight o’clock in the evening, on Sin Street the bars are overflowing with men—the way they would be at one a.m. on a day without revolution. The usual sailors, dock workers, military, and students are celebrating on Sin Street, not bothering to cover their faces from the rain—or from recognition by the DGS. Through the mayhem, we find our way to the Good Times Bar.
As I push through the throng to get up to the bar, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn to fight, and I am caught in a bear-hug by Joaquim.
“You made it back, my friend,” he shouts above the din.
“Yes. They directed us into the city.”
“Thank you for what you have done. Come.” He waves his hand towards the bar. “Have a drink on me. Toast the revolution!”
He glances at Steve, and I introduce him.
“It’s not our struggle,” Steve says. “We don’t belong here. We want to stay for a while, if that’s okay with you. And then leave early in the morning.”
Joaquim looks down as if looking for an answer in the beer-soaked concrete beneath his feet. I can see he is disappointed. Then he looks up with a broad grin.
“Sure, go up,” he says. “Go,” he says again, as if we didn’t hear. He puts a hand on each of our necks and pushes us gently toward the open door facing the street.
At the top of the stairs the door cracks open as we approach and I see Gida’s face. Relief pours into me at the sight of her. She looks pale in the dim light of the hallway.
“This is not a good time,” she says, and she is about to close the door when it opens wider.
Vincense is standing behind her.
Did Joaquim set us up? Why isn’t he here, why didn’t he warn us?
Vincense is disheveled: his white shirttail out of his pants, his oiled hair hanging in all directions. He speaks in a low voice to Gida, who seems to be agreeing with what he is saying to her.
Steve takes hold of my arm. “Let’s get out of here,” he mutters, and I turn, ripped and bleary. How can I have been so wrong about her?
“Not so fast, gentlemen,” Vincense’s big voice calls after us. I turn back and see he has a small handgun aimed directly at my face. “Come inside,” he says. “We need to discuss what you have been doing here in Mozambique.”
The serpent is in his element.
“What the hell are you doing, Vincense?” Steve moves a step toward him.
Vincense steps toward Steve. He gets hold of him by the collar and presses the muzzle into his forehead. “Shut up and get inside,” he says. “You too,” he growls at me. “Go sit down. Gida, you too.” He motions to the couch and yanks Steve’s shirt, forcing him into the living room and pushing the revolver into the small of his back.
Now I see Vincense has brought company. His driver and bodyguard leans against the wall, casually observing the proceedings. Clearly we are not a threat, and I wonder who else is in this apartment. I cannot look at Gida. Vincense waves the barrel at us to sit on the couch. Steve and I comply.
“Maria?” he calls in a sweet voice, saying something in Portuguese. The little girl comes in from Joaquim’s bedroom and runs to Gida, who takes the child in her arms. Vincense watches them. I believe I see the disgust he has for his lover with her child; how he sees them as conspiring to humiliate him.
Steve moves over as if to make a space for the little girl. He bends forward, grabbing the mohair rug, jumping up, heaving the rug. Vincense reels backward, his head hitting the wooden floorboards. The gun jumps out of his hand and slides across the floor.
Steve leaps toward the weapon, but the bodyguard has quickly pulled his own handgun now, aiming it at him. As the bodyguard stands with his foot on Vincense’s weapon I catch a glimpse of someone else.
It’s Joaquim, entering the living room door leading in from the balcony. Now I remember seeing the fire escape. Vincense is getting up and will blow Joaquim’s cover.
I lurch forward onto Vincense, pinning him with my knee in his neck. He splutters and tosses me off him.
Joaquim takes two quick strides, surprising the bodyguard with a rear neck lock, pressing a hunting knife to his throat. Joaquim carefully eases the handgun out of his hand.
Steve picks up Vincense’s handgun, no longer under the guard’s foot, and in one stride has the weapon trained on Vincense. He kicks the hand that Vincense is using to get up. Vincense falls again and Steve now has the barrel pressed into his forehead.
“We know your game,” Steve says.
Vincense spits into his face. Steve punches him hard with the barrel. Vincense’s head rolls. Blood oozes from his temple and runs down his ear into the collar of his starched shirt.
Vincense pants. “You are all Frelimo scum. We knew it from your first night. We should have made you disappear on Sin Street.” He looks for Gida with an eye that is quickly swelling. “But you will not get away. I have friends here, don’t I, querida?”
Gida, pointing at the bodyguard, says to Joaquim, “He is the one who tried to kill us at the intersection.”
I hold Gida by the hand, and move her to the door. She holds on to Maria. As she passes Vincense she looks down at him in pure hatred and curses him in Portuguese.
Joaquim walks the bodyguard over to Vincense’s prone body, and in a single motion digs the blade deep into the side of his throat and draws it across and up to the opposite ear. Joaquim lets the man drop onto Vincense. Blood gushes out, onto Vincense’s white shirt, and pools over the floorboards.
Gida glances back at Joaquim. “Obrigado.”
Goodbye to her first friend.
Her only friend.
“Go,” I tell Gida. “Wait for us in the bar.”
I see my life turn before me; the hope of a life of possibility transforms into one of impossible difficulty. I catch Steve glancing at me and see the same horror at this realization. The blood sinking into the floorboards seems trivial by comparison.
From the street below I hear Gida calling out to me. I rush to the window and look down to the frenzied street below, thick with revelers and homesick troops flowing past her.
“Walk away. Come,” she shouts.
I turn to get a last glimpse of that man bleeding out over the floor.
“Get out of here,” Joaquim says, kneeling beside Steve, pinning Vincense to the floor. Without a word he takes the handgun from Steve and presses the muzzle into Vincense’s forehead. “Both of you. Take Gida and Maria. You must leave with them.”
We leave the apartment door open, walking quickly in the dark hallway toward a green Saida exit light.
“Steve, help me.” It’s Vincense’s voice I hear.
Joaquim is pressing his fingers into Vincense’s throat; his hands flap uselessly as he struggles for air—then his body relaxes. Joaquim looks up and sees my transfixed stare.
“Go, leave now.” Joaquim calls quietly out to me. “And don’t come back.”