For a diamond and precious jewels supplier, Azubuike did not live it up.
The inside of the house was surprisingly close to poverty. The white paint flaked from every wall, and the roof had stains indicating water leakage. The floors were wood panelling, but worn down and lacking polish. There was a slight intrusion of the red dust, though it was confined to the floor and the lower portion of the walls. The light along the passage to the front door indicated that several doors leading off into rooms were closed.
Azu continued his queries as he walked around the kitchen. Collecting a cutting board and fishing knife from a cupboard and drawer respectively, he began to prepare the fish on the island.
“I cannot imagine living and working in such conditions. Life is hard enough here, let alone requiring a reinforced body suit to even step outside.”
Barney shrugged his shoulders. “You do what you need to do.”
He looked around the rooms near the kitchen. An old cathode ray television, with a set top box sitting on its top, was placed within a sealed glass case against a side wall. A pair of three-seat couches sat beside each other, showing the prominent shade of red that seemed to infiltrate everything.
“Tell me, Azu. Do you make much money?”
The man’s face broke into a wide grin. “I do well enough.” He gestured with the knife towards the front door, with small drops of fish blood falling onto the kitchen bench. “Unlike our corporate friends through there, I do not make a point of flaunting my wealth with fancy items.”
“What do you spend your money on, then?”
“I work with agriculturalists in trying to grow a greater variety of sustainable crops on the outskirts of Bangui. The majority of the population rely on the food they produce for themselves, hardy foods such as grain and tubers. We look to get new crops covering all the requirements of a diet, and can easily be grown by all people.”
“Is it working out?”
Azu chuckled to himself. “The land is what it is, and will grow what it can. Some things work out better than others, but we focus on supporting hardier strains of various food types and making them sustainable.”
Completing the filleting of the fish he had caught, he placed four pieces in a small oven placed on the bench. As he closed the door of the oven, a squeaking metal sound came from the front of the house. Barney turned to the source of the sound, as a lady walked down the corridor with some shopping bags hanging from her forearm.
She was a slender lady, her full-length body wrap showing a narrow build with understated curves, who shared the same skin colour as Azu. Her hair was short and tightly ringed, which helped highlight her wide brown eyes and her large pink and brown lips. She looked at the unexpected guest, giving a small smile before conversing with Azu in a language Barney could not understand. The pair spoke animatedly for a minute or two, until she nodded and turned back to Barney.
“Hello. My name is Shasa.” Her accent was heavy, and her English spoken with the hesitancy of one not used to using it.
“I am Barnaby. Pleased to meet you.” The pair shook hands formally, with the lady giving a small tilt of her head before turning to the kitchen cupboards and beginning to put away the items she had brought from the shops.
Barney looked to Azu. “Your English is very good. Do many people here in Bangui speak it well?”
“No. We have many dialects, French being the most common. The most common native language is called Sangho. Shasa speaks Sangho and French, but I learned English during my studies overseas.”
Barney nodded. “Where did you study?”
“At ETH in Zurich. I could say the full name of the university, but it is quite the mouthful. It was there that I met Claudio, and we studied together. Our thesis was based on the comparatives of black diamond to the other forms of diamond, and how it seems the two types were created in different ways. We concluded that no possible method of black diamond creation existed on Earth, whereas high-pressure volcanic activity allows white diamonds and other different shades.”
A small bell sounded, and Azu turned back to the small oven. He quickly turned the fish, pressing on it slightly with the tongs to see how much moisture remained. Nodding to himself, he closed the door again.
Shasa completed her packing away, and closed the door to the pantry. As she turned, her eyes narrowed. She looked around the room, seemingly focussed on something. She said something to Azu in Sangho, which made him do a similar analysis of the room. After a moment, he shrugged his shoulders and spoke to her. She said something to Azu in a harsh tone, before beginning to move around the kitchen.
Barney looked to Azu. “What was that? Have I made her uncomfortable?”
Azu shook his head, waving a hand side to side for further emphasis. “Not at all. She is sensitive to spirits and other supernatural things. She said she felt a presence in the room, but I told her she was incorrect. Like most ladies, she doesn’t like men saying they are wrong.”
As he laughed, the bell of the oven sounded again. “I’ll get a lemon and some pepper while Shasa makes the side dishes. It will be basic fare, but the fish from the Ubangi River are very good. Once we finish lunch, we can head downstairs.”
Barney nodded, before looking to the floor in confusion. It was a single storey house.
– X –