The doorbell rang.
“This could be my Chinese friend, Xiao-he.” I murmured as I walked toward the door.
I guessed rightly. It was actually him-that droll of a man. He was oddly amusing. Xiao-he, (pronounced Shiao-he) and literally translated as “small river”. His real name was Lee Chiang-I, but nicknamed Xiao-he by all his friends. He could make you laugh by whimsical, eccentric conduct. He was a short and plump person in his mid-fifties. He was bald-headed and had unusually large ears-for a Chinese. As he entered with his dog, I realized he wasn’t that character I knew. I could tell from his doleful face that he had experienced a great loss or was in serious trouble. He had been drinking with friends all day at a bar not far from my home. Xiao-he’s foibles included a tendency to spend more time with his dog at the expense of his family.
Soon after his arrival, he excused me to visit the toilet. He stayed there so long that I thought he’d gone back home without even saying a good-bye.
“Xiao-he where are you?” I asked, with my eyes gazing toward the second bathroom, since the first bathroom was dysfunctional.
There was no response. The water in the kettle was boiling. I rushed to the kitchen to put off the fire. To my amazement, I found Xiao-he sitting at the kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee. He appeared to be in deep thought-just staring at the wall. I watched as he wiped a tear from his eye and took a sip of his coffee.
“What’s the matter, Xiao-he?” I whispered to him as I stepped into the kitchen.
“Why are you sitting here in the kitchen instead of being in the living room?”
Xiao-he looked up from his coffee.
“Did I ever mention to you the story of a blind orphan I met in one African country fifteen years ago?”
“No, you didn’t.” I replied.
Xiao-he paused. The words weren’t coming easily.
“During one of my trips as a businessman to Africa fifteen years ago, I met a blind boy who had been orphaned by AIDS-both of his parents had died with the disease. At the time, he was only three years old. He used to call me “Daddy”.
“What country in Africa? I asked, lowering myself into a chair beside him.
He hesitated at first, then, with a face covered with sweat he answered:
Wiping out the sweat on his face with tissue paper, he continued,
“I feel terribly guilty for my inability to save one innocent boy from being killed when some rebels from a rival clan descended into his village, wiping out every living being-including animals. They called that ‘operation no living thing.'”
Wiping another tear from his cheek, he continued.
“I do recollect how one of those drugged-up minors specializing in amputation shoved a short gun in my face and said: ‘You either let us take away this boy to slaughter or you both get perished.’ The little blind boy was too young to understand what was going on. However, after hearing these boy soldiers shout and shoot into the air he knew something had gone wrong. The boy became terribly frightened and as a result held me so tight.”
“Xiao-he, what had been your mission there at that village, and how did you find this boy?”
“I had gone there to look for my business partner who had gone there to bring his family back to the capital. Before he left, he told his private secretary that he’d be back the following day. He didn’t return after five days. As I had very important issues to discuss with him, I decided to go find him at the village.”
“Xiao-he, how did you know he was still in that village?”
“I couldn’t have known without first going there to find out.”
“But you could have called him on his mobile phone to find out?”
“It wasn’t possible to reach him by phone.”
“Why wasn’t that possible?”
“You’re talking about Africa aren’t you?”
“Yes, I know. But Africa is a continent-not a country. There are other parts of the continent that are relatively developed.”
“So were you aware there was an on-going civil war in that country before going there?”
“Yes. Before I left for that country, the news coming from those three countries-Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia-all in West Africa wasn’t good. I’d been doing business with all these three countries until they become a scene of fierce waves of internecine bloodshed… “
“And you still decided to go there?”
“So you weren’t afraid of being killed?”
“I was, but I knew as a foreigner, I would probably not be targeted.”
“So what exactly happened?”
“I arrived at that village at half past noon, after a five-hour drive through Sierra Leone’s axle-breaking roads. It was only about 100 kilometers away from the capital-Freetown-where I started my journey. I was gripped by anxious thoughts that often rattled me to tears on the five-hour long commute to that village. I couldn’t anticipate what awaited me over there. Upon arrival, I quickly noticed how the village had turned into a corpse-littered wasteland with derelict buildings and furrowed alleys. I… “
“Was it your first time there.” I interrupted.
“No. I’d been there together with my business partner on three other occasions. As I… “
“Were you traveling alone?” I interrupted again.
“No, I was with… “
“Another Chinese?” I interrupted him again.
At this time, Xiao-he became impatient with my interruptions and cautioned me.
At that point, he became disinterested in telling me what exactly happened to the little blind boy due to my impatience.
I wish I had been patient enough. I blame myself until this day!