It was like a home away from home.
As Barney stepped out of the terminal of the Bangui M’Poko International Airport, the humidity of the locale became readily apparent. He opened his luggage bag and carefully placed his jacket from Geneva inside. Closing that, he opened his carry-on bag to remove his tablet computer.
The screen showed that the path to Claudio’s contact was a rather direct one. Taking a right straight out of the airport onto the Avenue de France, his destination was just over eight kilometres away. Barney knew that converted to around five miles, the running distance that Woody bragged he had never been defeated over. The road transformed into Rue du Languedoc, with the right turn further along onto Rue du l’Industrie. Barney chuckled to himself, seeing a commonality between Bangui and Geneva, two very different cities in two very different countries.
Walking along, Barney saw that everything was covered in red dust. A great majority of the modest high-rise buildings he walked past had white renders that had been turned shades of red and pink by the intrusion of the dust from the deserts to the north. The black bitumen of the road was almost completely hidden beneath a blanket of rust-coloured particles, but for the parallel lines left by the cars driving along. He had to walk as far from the road as he could to avoid the spray as they passed, though he could not avoid a light covering.
Arriving at Rue du l’Industrie, Barney saw that the street was lined with office buildings that looked a deal more European than the rest of the city he had seen on his walk. They had different modern designs, though the prevalence of glass windows seemed the link. Many of the buildings were emblazoned with the letters DMC in large script. As Barney walked down the street, he saw the words ‘Diamond & Minerals Collective’ running beneath the larger letters.
His directions said that his destination was at the end of the street. Continuing onward, he saw a shack that was dwarfed by the other buildings on the street. It definitely looked like it belonged in the city, with its discoloured white render and a more aged look. A wooden sign swung in the breeze from the gutter outside the front door, with the words ‘Olapa Gems’ carved into it. A decrepit metal flywire door, with lines of dark red rust running amongst the white dust and metal frame, let Barney see into the corridor. The inside looked similar to the outside, with an aged timber floor and peeling paint. He turned the handle on the flywire, but it was locked. Looking further inside, he could see an open door at the back of the house, which led out onto a pier. At its end, a lone figure sat on a plastic chair, facing away towards the river. A metal bucket sat next to the chair.
Barney walked around the exterior of the house to try and find his way to the pier. The area was covered in the all-pervading red dust, with small clumps of grass finding their way out of it. As he reached the backyard, he saw the pier stretched about ten meters into the river. From the new angle, it could be seen that the person sitting down was fishing.
“Hey there, bud!”
The figure turned to face Barney. The exposed skin of the man’s face and chest had a slight coating of red dust, which did not hide the deep black tone of his skin. He wore a loose and ragged singlet, along with an equally shabby pair of running shorts, and had bare feet bare feet. Barney did not blame him, feeling the sweat clinging to his own body underneath his polo shirt and jeans. The less clothing sticking to your body, the better.
“Would you be…” Barney tried to read the name Claudio had given him. “Azubuike Olapa?”
The onyx man laughed, showing slightly yellowed teeth and pale pink gums. “Just call me Azu. It’s easier for everyone.” He reached down to the pier floor, and out of Barney’s view pulled a pair of fish. “I’ve caught lunch early for once.” He stood up from his chair, and began to walk back towards the house. “Come on over here, don’t be shy. We can share some of these.”
Barney fairly drooled at the thought as he walked towards the door at the back of house. “You have no idea how long I’ve been hanging out for a fresh fish.”
Azu gave him a measuring gaze as Barney came closer. “You look like a native sort. Where do you hail from?”
“Nhulunbuy. The Northern Territory in Australia.”
The African man whistled. “I feel honoured you have travelled so far to see me, though I am wondering why.”
Barney smiled. “I’ve travelled a slightly further distance to get your expertise. A bloke named Claudio Grisogno sent me your way.”
Azu’s eyes widened considerably. “You’re kidding me! He sent you here from Venus?”
Barney nodded, slightly raising his carry bag. “I have a sample of diamond he thinks you can provide some expertise with.”
The man’s eyes narrowed angrily as he put a hushing finger to his lips. “Don’t be saying stuff like that in the open. Those DMC parasites in their glass towers would be all over you.” He looked at the carry bag. “You didn’t declare the goods at the airport? The staff there would have reported any such items to their masters for a measly couple of dollars.”
A brief shake of his head calmed Azu’s darkened gaze. The African’s face lightened quickly and became friendly once again. “Come on inside. My wife is up at the shops, and should be back soon. There should be some reasonable side dishes to go with the fish.”
As the pair moved into the house, Azu began a lengthy query on what it was like to work on what was considered the most oppressive work environment known to man.
– X –