The power in the city had gone out. I could tell this even though the shades were drawn. There was a pattern to disruptions in power. First, the lights would glow profusely as if the electricity was surging through the filaments and threatening to scorch them. The air conditioner rattled like an animal in its final throes, and then the hotel generator would switch on, just before the electric grid crashed, and everything in my room glowed and hummed as before, but with lessened intensity.
Out beyond, in any buildings which did not have their own generators, and certainly in the shanty town which ringed the town like a grimy halo, the capitol was plunged in darkness. But in this hotel, which caters to foreign visitors, the hallways and rooms were lit; the lights in the dining room burned so bright you could see the crest of the leader’s family, embossed on the china.
Even disruption, once it had become routine, could be incorporated into existence. But there were warning signs of some greater doom. Through the masonry walls I thought I could hear the distant discharge of a mortar. The outside world leaked through the joints and cracks of this artificial barrier.
I stood still for a moment, trying to remember what I was going to do, and then decided, instead of doing that mystery task, to go down to the restaurant and eat, when the phone rang. I could not hear anything for a moment, and then there was a peal of static (a common occurrence, another planned disruption) but then a voice sluiced through the wall of sound, and all was silent but for it. A voice was asking my name inquisitively, formally, raising its tone on the concluding syllable to stress the speaker’s punctiliousness. It was unmistakably an African voice.
“Yes? This is Charles. You have eaten yet? I hope not.” I answered him “So good. You must join me for dinner, at my residence. I will have a car fetch you at 8?”