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CHOP MONEY/E.A. Hubacker Coleman THE HARMATTAN came early. Already, in the first week of November, the cold wind from the Sahara swept down through a thousand miles of cracked mud and barren creekbeds and brought a fine foggy dust to settle over glasses and crockery and clothes hung out to dry and anyone who didn't move often enough. Old women rubbed their peeling hands and limped, favoring forgotten injuries. Beer came warm to tables and people wore jackets all day. Men laughed quickly and left long before the eleven o'clock curfew for the uncertain warmth of their beds. Despite his chapped lips, Brian welcomed the winds. He'd been traveling for months, and the haze and sixty-degree chill arrived with the quiet raucousness of an old and well-missed friend who had come to bid him "safe journey." The cold both comforted and enervated him. He fell victim to the night-time sloth of desert dwellers, avoiding the ten-minute ride to Sabon Gari in favor of the proximity and solemnity of Kano's Central Hotel. He hated paying the extra five Naira for each too-sweet beer and missed the body warmth of bars so small that only the sharp voices of proprietors' wives separated one from the next, but the exuberance of Sabon Gari magnified the harmattan's lonely chill. After three years in WestAfrica, he appreciated the Central's relative luxury: waiters, tables with matching chairs, water trickling into small pools around the patio. The hotel surrounded them on all four sides, deadening the noise of the bumping trucks and motorcycle-taxis on the street. A towering arch curved over half the tables; its crude concrete looked elegant in the haze of the harmattan. Brian liked to start drinking early, by six or six-thirty, or at least before the sun went down at seven, to enjoy the quiet of the empty bar. With darkness came the women—alone if they could sneak past the guards, on the arms of accommodating foreigners if not. By the time the lights along the patio edge came on, twenty or thirty Nigerian women of many colors, singly and in small groups, filled the tables with laughter and quiet talking. Scattered among them like prizes sat the five or six men whose skin and eyes broadcast their foreignness. At first, one woman or another would approach him almost every night. Though the attempts had trailed off as they had all come to know him, it didn't surprise him tonight when a tall serious woman rose from her chair two tables away and headed toward him. He The Missouri Review · 21 pretended not to see her until she was standing next to him, asking, "May I sit here?" He paused, because he wanted to look as ifhe were thinking of saying no, before answering, "By all means," and gesturing to the empty chair. She lowered her jacket to display her bare shoulders and the long line ofher neck. Feigning disinterest, she offered questions in the same way that the market-women offer their first price, a take-it-or-leave-it calm before the storm of negotiations. "Do you like Nigeria?" "Very much. The people are friendly." "Maybe. I do not like Kano." "But you like Nigeria?" "Of course. It is my country." He nodded, understanding. "And why do you not like Kano?" Despite himself, he softened to the sound and stilted vocabulary ofher English. He found his own words twisting to the familiar syntax and, though he could never entirely give up the efficiency of contractions, he admired the formal rhythm of her speech without them. She finished her Coke soundlessly and put the empty bottle on the table. "I do not know. It is too dry. Too many Muslims." "You're not Muslim?" "No. May I have a cigarette?" He put the pack in front of her and leaned back. Cigarettes were neutral; they carried no implications. "Help yourself." She lit it and inhaled. With the smoke she said, "Christian. I am from Benue State. In the South." "Then you don't speak Hausa." "No. I understand a little. Do you?" He shook his...


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