111. Rogues

By Peter Fraenkel

When I first joined Merran at Monrovia, Liberia, we lived very comfortably.  She was ‘house sitting’ – looking after the residence of the local head of Unesco, a Canadian.  It was at this house that Mr. Justice Pierre married us some weeks later. Our bedroom was air conditioned – a rare blessing on that steamy, humid coast. The Canadian couple knew it was advisable to have a house sitter.  It made it less likely that they would be burgled. When the Canadians returned we had to move. My new wife had found a little house to rent from some missionaries. It was at New Krutown, a tribal village on the outskirts of Monrovia – a very suitable place since she was making a sociological study of the Kru community. The university – where she had been asked to teach a course –had promised to lend us furniture but so far only one single bed had been delivered – a bed without a mattress.  We piled our winter coats – not much use in that climate – on the bed springs and hoped to sleep lying across.  It was not going to be a comfortable night … not helped by loud hi-life music from a little nightclub no more than fifteen meters from our front porch. But there was worse to come that first night.

Loud banging on our window: “Missus Franco! Missus Franco! Don’t leave your window open.  Rogues! Lots of rogues.”

I was surprised he’d already got our name, even if he hadn’t got it quite right.

“Rogues” was a frequently used term at Monrovia – and indeed there were many about. But when we eventually emerged bleary-eyed next morning other neighbours came to introduce themselves.

“That was Bobo Natt who made all that noise last night. A professional burglar. He’s been in and out of jailhouse many times. Many times.”

“But he warned us about burglars?”

“That’s why: He knows if there is anything missing from your house, he’ll be blamed. But he says he doesn’t do thieving in New Krutown.”

“And is it true?”

“So far as we know, yes.”

He came and introduced himself “properly” a day or two later and I shared a beer with him, which I hoped might seal our pact. He gave us a lecture about rogues – never explaining how he came to be so well informed.

“They strip naked and rub themselves with coconut oil. Then nobody can get a grip on them and they can escape. There’s a school for rogues where they teach them these tricks.”

“It’s good to know,” said Merran after he’d left, “If I found a naked man glistening with oil in my bedroom, I might have a stroke!”

There followed a lengthy period when we did not see Bobo Natt. “He’s doing time again”, another Kru towner informed us. When he eventually re-appeared he said he had been ‘detained’ – which was, I guess, literally true.

They said he also kept other ‘rogues’ out of Krutown. Sharing a beer with him, from time to time, seemed a sound investment. But I found it wiser not to mention my newfound friendship in polite society.