Note: The following story has been translated from my Greek book ‘From Cape Town to Alexandria’ narrating an overland trip from side to side of the African Continent.
By early afternoon, I was finally roused by the squealing blares of some vendors who had invaded the bus. All of them, cardboard boxes on shoulders, were trying to sell their wares, consisting of water-bottles, soft-drinks, cookies, fruit and various other edible or not articles. Only the faster ones had made it to the inside of the vehicle. The rest had formed a mob at the outside and were trying to sell from the windows. Somewhat bemused, still trying to properly wake up, I was observing those events, when: “Good morning!” – the guy next seat addressed me – “We arrived in Lusaka. We are stopping here for lunch”.
There was great hustle at the central bus station of Zambia’s capital city. The area around the buses was congested by a disorderly horde: passengers, vendors, and other irrelevant people. As far as I could see, I was the only white man at the station. As a Greek saying goes, I was there resembling ‘a fly floating on milk’ – but ‘a dandelion floating on petroleum’ would fit rather better in this case. However, to my pleasant surprise, I didn’t come to the awkward position of being the center of attention to all (as it very often happened throughout Africa). Here nobody seemed to care much about my presence.
We were going to remain at the station for about an hour. After I’d given my joints a good creak and had discharged my urinary bladder, it was time to fill my stomach up with something. I got myself three big biff skewers with plenty of fat and a portion of french fries and I started chowing down on them.
After I had swallowed the last mouthful – as it is required after every good meal – I desired to light a cigarette. I headed towards a remote corner of the station, intending to hide between two parked trucks. I did that so to take advantage of the shade, as well as to avoid the looks of the cops patrolling the station – who would very eagerly attempt to charge me – for their personal benefit – a fine for the cigarette I was to smoke within the no-smoking-allowed area of the station.
When I approached the narrow space between the two trucks, I noted that I was going to share it with another guy. An elder he was. He was amputated from the waist down, attached to an improvised wheelchair, made of a wooden frame and bicycle wheels. He didn’t let me out of his sight for an instance as I was nearing. He was staring at me persistently in agony and anticipation. So he kept looking at me until I reached and stood by him.
“You finally came! I’ve been waiting for you the entire day!”, he loudly said to me, as I was placing in between my lips the cigarette I was heretofore holding in my hand. “Who? Me?”, I asked him baffled. “Yes, you! And the pack of smokes you’re carrying in your pocket. Give me one, please.” I took one out, gave it to him, and stood there observing him. Without a word, he grabbed the cigarette and squeezed it with his lips – firmly, as if to make sure it will not fly away. Then he lit it up with a match and began to suck it with deep, successive drags. There was a highly exhilarating emotion I could discern in his glittering eyes attending the rising fumes. It must not have taken more than ten drags, and all the cigarette was burnt down. Due to inertia, he also took a couple of puffs from the filter, and discarded what was left on the ground. He then remained silent and thoughtful staring at the sky.
When I also finished smoking, I took off and opened a pack of cookies I kept in my pocket. “Want a cookie?”, I asked the bloke, spreading my hand out to him with one. He turned and looked at me speechless for a while, like he just remembered I was there. “A cookie? No! I don’t want any damn cookie! Give me a smoke if you have one more… You see, I only sit here, the whole day, every day. I don’t spend a lot of energy…I don’t need food… I need cigarettes… Cigarettes, and the fucking time to pass by swiftly”. I took out the open, half-full pack I had in my pocket and placed it as it was on his palm. He was going to say something but it fainted out at the edge of his lip. He rammed the pack into his underwear, looking, at the same time, around him distrustfully if anyone sees. “Goodbye”, I told him as I started going back to the bus. He also greeted me with a bored gesture.