130. The Greeting.

By Peter Fraenkel


I don’t understand it myself. How can I explain it to you?

Every morning, as I get up, I turn to this photo of Merran – now dead more than two years – and wave to it in greeting. The photo does not respond. I know it won’t. But still, I greet it.  It stands unmoved on my desk. I took that photo a few days after Mr Justice Pierre had married us “by the laws of God and the Republic of Liberia”. My flying out all the way to Monrovia, following her had finally had convinced her I was serious. She knew I could ill afford the fare.

There had been other women I had lusted after, but none to whom I had wanted to tie myself “till death us do part”.

Her rejection of the racism current, in those days, in Northern Rhodesia was a bond. Or so I say. She demurs. She says in those days I had absorbed too much of the racism then current among white Rhodesians. I dispute this, hotly.

The photo was taken on West’s beech, a few minutes’ walk from the little house that Merran had rented from some missionaries. Bathing facilities in our house were primitive. A dip in the sea was the best way of keeping clean. But it left us rather salt-encrusted. The Wests offered us the use of their bathroom and once or twice a week we did go up to their house to bath and wash the salt off our skins.

Dr West was a black American, married to a Dutch girl – a pleasant couple. We bonded. As a hobby he ran a small radio station from a spare room in his house. Merran had offered him my services, since I was a professional broadcaster. He was interested but just then he broadcast some remark that had irritated President Tubman. His station was shut down.

Both the Wests were killed instantaneously in a head-on collision on one of the narrow country roads of Liberia. These roads climbed steeply up hill and steeply downhill, so one could never see far ahead.

Dr West had been personal physician to President Tubman but popular with many others. It was an enormous funeral. Tubman spoke in praise of him … at great length. He never mentioned shutting down the doctor’s radio station. Praise singing for the doctor in the Pentecostal church next to us kept us awake all that night. No! Two nights.

Having lost the use of the Wests’ bathroom, we became rather salt caked until Merran was asked to ‘house-sit’ the Unesco chief’s residence when he went on home leave to Canada: a luxurious house, it had one air- conditioned bedroom. But emerging from that bedroom for breakfast we were, within minutes, pouring with perspiration. I started to have doubts about the delights of air conditioning.

I set out to write to explain my regular greeting of that photo of Merran. I haven’t explained it – for a good reason:  I can’t.