Authors: William Boyd
A Good Man in Africa
William Boyd’s first novel,
A Good Man in Africa
, won a Whitbread Prize and a Somerset Maugham Award; his second,
An Ice-Cream War
, was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize;
won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; and
The Blue Afternoon
won the Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction. Boyd lives in London.
Also by William Boyd
On the Yankee Station
An Ice-Cream War
Stars and Bars
The New Confessions
The Blue Afternoon
The Destiny of Nathalie X and Other Stories
Any Human Heart
FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, JANUARY 2003
Copyright © 1981 by William Boyd
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
A Good Man in Africa
was originally published in hardcover in the United States by William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, in 1982.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage
International and colophon are trademarks
of Random House, Inc.
The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication
Data is on file.
The author wishes to
acknowledge the kind assistance of
the Southern Arts Association.
Somewhere a strange and shrewd tomorrow goes to bed
Planning a test for men from Europe; no one guesses
Who will be most ashamed, who richer, and who dead.
“Good man,” said Dalmire, gratefully accepting the gin Morgan Leafy offered him, “Oh, good man.” He presents his eager male friendship like a gift, thought Morgan; he’s like a dog who wants me to throw a stick for him to chase. If he had a tail he’d be wagging it.
Morgan smiled and raised his own glass. I hate you, you smug bastard! he screamed inwardly. You shit, you little turd, you’ve ruined my life! But all he said was, “Congratulations. She’s a fabulous girl. Lovely. Lucky chap.”
Dalmire rose to his feet and went to the window that looked over the Deputy High Commission’s front drive. Heat vibrated up from the parked cars, and a dusty even light lay over the view. It was late afternoon, the temperature was in the low nineties, Christmas was less than a week away.
Morgan watched in disgust as Dalmire tugged and eased his sweaty trouser seat. Oh Priscilla, Priscilla, he asked himself, why him? Why Dalmire? Why not me?
“When’s the great day then?” he asked, his face all polite curiosity.
“Not for a while,” Dalmire replied. “Old Ma Fanshawe seems set on a spring wedding. So’s Pris. But I’m easy.” He gestured at the sombre bank of clouds which loomed over the rusty
sprawling mass that was the town of Nkongsamba, state capital of the Mid-Western region, Kinjanja, West Africa. “Looks like we’re in for a shower.”
Morgan thought about replacing the gin in his filing cabinet, decided against it and poured himself another stiff three-fingers. He waved the green bottle at Dalmire who threw up his hands in mock horror.
“Lord no, Morgan, couldn’t take another. Better let the sun hit the yard-arm.”
Morgan shouted for Kojo, his secretary. The man promptly emerged from the outer office. He was small, neat and dapper with a starched white shirt, tie, blue flannels and black shoes loose on his feet. Every time he was in Kojo’s presence Morgan felt like a slob.
“Ah, Kojo. Tonic, tonic. More tonic,” he said, trying to keep himself in check.
“Comin’, sah.” Kojo turned to go.
“Hold on. What’s that you’ve got?” Kojo held several looping strands of paper-chain.
“Christmas dec’rations, sah. For your office. I thought maybe this year.…”
Morgan rolled his eyes heavenwards. “No,” he shouted. “Never, none of it in here.” A merry bloody Christmas I’m having, he thought bitterly. Then, aware of the startled look on Dalmire’s face, he said more reasonably, “Nevah bring ’im for here—you sabi dis ting. I nevah like ’im for dis place.”
Kojo smiled, ignoring the pidgin English. Morgan scrutinised the little man’s features for signs of resentment or contempt but found no trace. He felt ashamed of his boorishness; it wasn’t Kojo’s fault that Dalmire and Priscilla were engaged.
“Of course not, sah,” Kojo said politely. “It will be as usual. Tonic comin’ up.” He left.
“Good man?” Dalmire asked, eyebrows raised.
“Yes, he is actually,” Morgan said, as though surprised by the thought. “You know: bloody efficient.” He wished Dalmire would go. The news was too depressing for him to maintain his conviviality for much longer. He cursed himself futilely for not paying more attention to Priscilla these last weeks, but they had been impossible, amongst the worst he had ever experienced in his generally fraught existence in this stinking hot frustrating
shit-hole of a country. Don’t think about it, he told himself, it’ll only seem worse. Think about Hazel instead—the new flat. Go to the barbecue at the club tonight. Do anything other than dwell on golden opportunities missed.
He looked at Dalmire, his subordinate, Second Secretary. He thought now that, in fact, he had really disliked him all along. From the day of his arrival. Something about his unreflecting Oxbridge assuredness; something about the way Fanshawe had instantly taken to him. Fanshawe was the Deputy High Commissioner in Nkongsamba; Priscilla was his daughter.
“Glad you had a chance to have a chat with Morgan, Dickie,” Fanshawe had said to Dalmire. “Old Nkongsamba hand is Morgan. Been here, oh, getting on for three years now, isn’t that right, Morgan? Part of the furniture almost, eh? Ha-ha. Good man though, Dickie. Finger on the pulse. Got great things planned, haven’t we, Morgan, eh?”
Morgan had smiled broadly throughout the whole harangue, a brief but foul chant of rage running through his brain.
He looked at Dalmire now as he stood by the window. He was wearing a white shirt, white shorts, beige knee socks and well-polished, brown brogue shoes. That, Morgan decided, was another thing he despised about him: his affected old-colonial attire. Ghastly wide shorts, billowing Aertex shirts and his college tie, thin and discreetly banded. Morgan himself sported flared, light-coloured flannels, bright shirts and these new wide ties with fist-sized Windsor knots which, so his sister assured him, were the latest fashion back home. But when he met with Fanshawe, Dalmire, and Jones, the Commission’s accountant, they made him feel cheap and flashy, like some travelling salesman. Even Jones had taken up shorts since Dalmire’s arrival. Morgan detested the sight of his fat little Welsh knees peeking out between the hem of his shorts and the top of his socks like two bald, wrinkled babies’ heads.
Morgan wearily dragged his attention back to Dalmire who was saying something while still dreamily staring out of the window.
“… the whole fate thing, gosh. Priscilla was just saying how extraordinary it was that my very first posting should be here.”
Morgan felt a sudden desire to weep hot tears of frustration. How dare he throw fate in his face? When it could so easily
standing there, the new fiancé, if Hazel had only kept … if Priscilla hadn’t … if Dalmire had never come … if Murray … Murray. He stopped the runaway car at the edge of the cliff. Yes, Murray. Fate had been working overtime.
Dalmire was still talking. “Don’t you agree, Morgan? Astonishing how these things happen?”
“Quite,” Morgan said, looking intently at the Annigoni reproduction of Her Majesty on his office wall. “Absolutely. No question.” He sighed quietly. He cast a glance at Dalmire who was shaking his head in wonder at the miraculous nature of things. What was so remarkable about Dalmire? he wondered to himself. Mild, reasonably pleasant features, thick brown hair with a straight well-defined parting, slim, fit-looking build. In strong contrast to himself he had reluctantly to admit, but beyond that nothing but unexceptionable blandness. And, in truth, he had to concede also that Dalmire had always been amicable and subservient; there was no evident cause for the poisonous hate he now nurtured in his breast.
But he knew he hated Dalmire abstractly,
sub specie aeternitatis
, so to speak. He hated him because his life was so easy and his attitude, far from one of abject and astonished gratefulness that this should be so, seemed rather to indicate that this was as fixed and natural a state of affairs as the planetary orbits going on invisibly above their heads. He wasn’t even particularly clever. Checking up his A-level and degree results in his personal file, Morgan had been amazed to discover how much worse Dalmire had done than he. And yet, and yet
had gone to Oxford, while Morgan went to some concrete and plate-glass building site in the Midlands. He
owned a house—in Brighton, legacy of some distant aunt—while Morgan’s UK base was his mother’s cramped semi-detached. And yet Dalmire had been posted abroad as soon as his training was over, while Morgan had sweated three years in an overheated office off Kingsway. Dalmire’s parents lived in Gloucestershire; his father was a Lieutenant Colonel. Morgan’s lived in Feltham; his father had been a catering manager at Heathrow.… He could go on and on. It just wasn’t
, he moaned to himself, and now he’s got Priscilla too. He wanted something harsh, cruel and inexplicable to happen to Dalmire; something shocking and arbitrary, just
to put him in touch with real life again. But no, the final insult from a bourgeois, ex-public school God had allowed Priscilla to be swept off her feet within weeks of Dalmire’s arrival.