I run. I run next to a European girl and a Liberian. I keep up because I usually go jogging a few times a week around UN Drive. The Liberian guy also takes great strides and sets a good pace. We don’t know where to go. Does it matter? Yes, it must matter. I am in the mood to keep running all over Monrovia, to get drenched, to liberate myself from something invisible, yet sticky. I want to keep moving ahead, look for an exit in the middle of the running shoes, the tarmac, sidestepping the grease puddles scattered on the road, the oil spots that aim for anonymity, for eternity.
I seek, without meaning to, an answer in the vision that my eyes offer me: dusty canopies that accompany my race, rusty billboards that pay me no attention, palm trees that continue drying out without it mattering, the Total petrol station, still empty (there is just one grey 4X4 filling up with diesel).
In all of this I look for something, even though I keep telling myself to centre on the present, on the moment.
I look behind me. The European girl can’t keep up with the Liberian and I. A few minutes ago her face looked like a slice of corned beef. She had gone so red that the Liberian and I stopped so that the girl from the old continent could recover. Actually, we weren’t going that fast. We stop in front of the embassies. We are desperate. Nobody says so, but we are desperate.
We are walking now, and the European girl tells us that she is writing a thesis on the environment in Liberia. We are desperate. “Sometimes you see elephants in the villages and the Liberians barely pay any attention to it. What would be, for us, an incredible discovery, for them is another part of the landscape. You have to tell them that white people are fascinated by elephants so that the next time they’ll whistle and tell you”, says the European girl.
We’ve begun running again. The European girl has started up again, bolting under the pressure of the usual implicit group dictatorship. She lowers her head and tucks it between her shoulders. She suffers. We stop again. The Liberian and I take an inward sigh. We aim to keep running, to continue searching in Monrovia. But good manners take over. So, we go back to walking placidly up to the hill where the Ducor Hotel is perched, from where you can see a large part of Monrovia. Does it matter? Yes, it matters. Do you care what I am seeing from this mound? And if I don’t tell you?
I see something in Monrovia that I am not going to tell you about. And I turn. And on turning I see the Ducor Hotel in ruins. A very well-known hotel in Monrovia for a number of years, for having housed illustrious guests in its heyday (ahh, those “in its heyday”), who spent the nights in their luxurious rooms with champagne and flying corks. Imagine the quantity, the quantity of what? Should I say? I am not going to say it.
I’ll move on: at midday the guests would go to the swimming pool, they’d dive in, meanwhile inside the lounges with padded armchairs, deals would be closed, some delivery of a shipment of weapons would be arranged, ready to offload in Liberia with complete efficiency, none of this cumbersome bureaucracy. At the Ducor, they would raise their glasses and cheer, they’d make love (what a corny composition “make love”), they’d turn up their noses now and again, they’d shout at the waiters to bring the bill quickly, they’d dream, they’d imagine. There would be fits of laughter.
We are desperate. About everything. And now, the Ducor Hotel is no more than a skeleton with a crumbling swimming pool, full of shapeless stones and unpainted walls where you can make out the broken cables that bring to mind the tentacles of a trapped octopus.
Nearby, the lift remains paralysed on the first floor. “What time is breakfast served tomorrow?”, I ask a guard in a baseball cap, with a cigarette falling from the corner of his mouth. I’m respectfully having a laugh. The European girl joins in, “Will there be croissants?”. The guard lowers his head, he looks at us as though playing the game but without being entirely sure. “Well, my wife and I are going to go for a walk, and later we’ll have dinner in the restaurant”, I say. As desperate people, we are always surprised by a light that always ends up shining. And you are encouraged. You know, everything turns out fine in the end.
We go inside the skeletal Ducor Hotel because as humans we are drawn to the past. Inside our heads, our thoughts, something that I am not going to tell you arises. Why should I tell you? Hey, why? We are now bordering the pool, we leave it behind us and continue down a hallway that shows us Monrovia’s port and two docks in the shape of arms that greet the sea, or hit it, or hug it, whatever the reader deems fit. At the end of the hallway there is a couple who have stopped kissing, since the European girl and I landed here with our full, fleshy faces. The desperate can also spoil the mood. There is a view over the whole of Monrovia from here, a ‘whole’, that as you know, I am not going to tell you about.
The European girl and I go into another room where the excrement gives off a distinct aroma, a smell that you don’t usually smell, a fragrance that somebody once decided reeked and wasn’t good. Why? We left there with broken faces, making headway by removing several stones along the way. At the exit we come across another guard, to whom I say, “I have left the key at reception. We’re going to take a stroll around the gardens. We are thinking of having dinner at the hotel restaurant tonight”.
I make an expression like that of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV so that he can see that I’m serious. The guard looks at me with a slightly opened mouth, and then he says, “Hey, Happy New Year”. “Happy New Year to you, too”, I reply. You know, in the end … You finish the sentence, reader. Go on.