Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Secure Life Abroad 1

Having been born and raised in foreign parts I had no qualms about working and living abroad when I became an adult. After all, what could possibly happen to a strong and smart young man? I was invulnerable wasn’t I? And I knew exactly what to expect. Didn’t I? Err…no I am afraid not. I got mugged twice by the same person, shot at and even seduced (allegedly) by a Zambian ‘Mata Hari’. I had a suspected revolutionary in the office and a pet maniac in my garden.

It all started when I got a job working for an airline called British Caledonian. They retained a pool of individuals whose job was to travel around the world taking over from overseas managers when they took their annual leave. This meant I ended up travelling from one place to another spending four weeks in each location which was great work for a single young man.

My first trip was to Accra in Ghana. It was a jolly nice stable place I was told and so it seemed. The local folk were very nice and very efficient. I was granted temporary membership to the sailing club, polo club, rugby club and various private drinking establishments so I felt pretty smug.

The only problem was my night watchman. He was a one-eyed giant of a man in long white robes and he took his job very seriously indeed. I nicknamed him Cyclops which suited him well. I mischievously told him my name was Mr Heracles so we seemed to fit together quite well! Only trouble was that I began to wonder whether I was his employer or his prey.

He would arrive in the evening with a large sack containing the tools of his trade. These consisted of stones (specially selected to fly further) knives (yes plural) and a range of clubs. His two spears he left in the garage for safe keeping. On arrival he would slink around the garden hiding his weapons under bushes so that he was never 2 metres from anything sharp or lethal. You only had to look at his eyes to see he longed to use them and I even saw him once leave the garden gate open as bait for opportunist thieves.

The trouble was he used to consider himself my personal bodyguard. He literally shadowed me and when I looked out of any window his form brandishing a spear would rear up from the undergrowth in front of me. If I went in the garden he would ghost around about five paces behind me and occasionally flatten himself against the wall. ‘Mr Heracles, I think I see something’ he said.’Rubbish Cyclops’ I would say but it did not stop him leaping forward spear raised.

It really is unnerving to be watched that closely. I would brush my teeth at night to see him in the mirror with his nose flattened against the window. He would not allow me to get into bed without him checking under the bed and in the wardrobe. I finally had enough when he held two of my dinner guests at spear point until I vouched for their good intent.

Then one day the army arrived. There was apparently a coup against the then president Kwame Nkrumah and the army was securing their position. This included digging a large circular machine gun trench in the middle of the garden. The hole was dug out, surrounded by sandbags and occupied by two armed soldiers and an enormous antique looking Bren gun.

Imagine what this did to Cyclops when he arrived for his night shift. First he was startled, then he was enraged and finally a tight lipped grimace of anticipation spread over his face. ‘Oh, new toys’ I could imagine him thinking as he started walking around this new ‘flower bed’ while two nervous faces looked out.

I went to bed around about eleven after saying goodnight to Cyclops in the bathroom mirror and slept like a baby. After all, what could go wrong with two soldiers and Cyclops to protect me? However, when I woke up there was only Cyclops and an abandoned machine gun nest . What have you done with them I demanded to know but he just squinted devilishly at me through his one eye.

I received a visit from the military later that morning. The guards had endured Cyclops for only around 3 hours before they fled. It had been something like the Blair Witch project with strange sounds, shadows and rasping breath from every direction. The clincher was when ‘somebody’ had thrown a snake in there with them. The trench was never occupied again. Cyclops was bereft. Who had stolen his toys he seemed to ask.

Night guards can sometimes be nearly as problematic as the people they are supposed to save you from. The police can often be worse as my sequel will tell.

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