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Excerpt: 'A Good Man in Africa'

"Good man," said Dalmire, gratefully accepting the gin Morgan Leafy offered him, "Oh, good man." He presents his eager male friendship like a gift, thought Morgan; he's like a dog who wants me to throw a stick for him to chase. If he had a tail he'd be wagging it.

Morgan smiled and raised his own glass. I hate you, you smug bastard! he screamed inwardly. You shit, you little turd, you've ruined my life! But all he said was, "Congratulations. She's a fabulous girl. Lovely. Lucky chap."

Dalmire rose to his feet and went to the window that looked over the Deputy High Commission's front drive. Heat vibrated up from the parked cars, and a dusty even light lay over the view. It was late afternoon, the temperature was in the low nineties, Christmas was less than a week away.

Morgan watched in disgust as Dalmire tugged and eased his sweaty trouser seat. Oh Priscilla, Priscilla, he asked himself, why him? Why Dalmire? Why not me?

"When's the great day then?" he asked, his face all polite curiosity.

"Not for a while," Dalmire replied. "Old Ma Fanshawe seems set on a spring wedding. So's Pris. But I'm easy." He gestured at the sombre bank of clouds which loomed over the rusty sprawling mass that was the town of Nkongsamba, state capital of the Mid-Western region, Kinjanja, West Africa. "Looks like we're in for a shower."

Morgan thought about replacing the gin in his filing cabinet, decided against it and poured himself another stiff three-fingers. He waved the green bottle at Dalmire who threw up his hands in mock horror.

"Lord no, Morgan, couldn't take another. Better let the sun hit the yard-arm."

Morgan shouted for Kojo, his secretary. The man promptly emerged from the outer office. He was small, neat and dapper with a starched white shirt, tie, blue flannels and black shoes loose on his feet. Every time he was in Kojo's presence Morgan felt like a slob.

"Ah, Kojo. Tonic, tonic. More tonic," he said, trying to keep himself in check.

"Comin', sah." Kojo turned to go.

"Hold on. What's that you've got?" Kojo held several looping strands of paper-chain.

"Christmas dec'rations, sah. For your office. I thought maybe this year. . . ."

Morgan rolled his eyes heavenwards. "No," he shouted. "Never, none of it in here." A merry bloody Christmas I'm having, he thought bitterly. Then, aware of the startled look on Dalmire's face, he said more reasonably, "Nevah bring 'im for here--you sabi dis ting. I nevah like 'im for dis place."

Kojo smiled, ignoring the pidgin English. Morgan scrutinised the little man's features for signs of resentment or contempt but found no trace. He felt ashamed of his boorishness; it wasn't Kojo's fault that Dalmire and Priscilla were engaged.

"Of course not, sah," Kojo said politely. "It will be as usual. Tonic comin' up." He left.

"Good man?" Dalmire asked, eyebrows raised.

"Yes, he is actually," Morgan said, as though surprised by the thought. "You know: bloody efficient." He wished Dalmire would go. The news was too depressing for him to maintain his conviviality for much longer. He cursed himself futilely for not paying more attention to Priscilla these last weeks, but they had been impossible, amongst the worst he had ever experienced in his generally fraught existence in this stinking hot frustrating shit-hole of a country. Don't think about it, he told himself, it'll only seem worse. Think about Hazel instead--the new flat. Go to the barbecue at the club tonight. Do anything other than dwell on golden opportunities missed.

He looked at Dalmire, his subordinate, Second Secretary. He thought now that, in fact, he had really disliked him all along. From the day of his arrival. Something about his unreflecting Oxbridge assuredness; something about the way Fanshawe had instantly taken to him. Fanshawe was the Deputy High Commissioner in Nkongsamba; Priscilla was his daughter.

"Glad you had a chance to have a chat with Morgan, Dickie," Fanshawe had said to Dalmire. "Old Nkongsamba hand is Morgan. Been here, oh, getting on for three years now, isn't that right, Morgan? Part of the furniture almost, eh? Ha-ha. Good man though, Dickie. Finger on the pulse. Got great things planned, haven't we, Morgan, eh?"

Morgan had smiled broadly throughout the whole harangue, a brief but foul chant of rage running through his brain.

He looked at Dalmire now as he stood by the window. He was wearing a white shirt, white shorts, beige knee socks and well-polished, brown brogue shoes. That, Morgan decided, was another thing he despised about him: his affected old-colonial attire. Ghastly wide shorts, billowing Aertex shirts and his college tie, thin and discreetly banded. Morgan himself sported flared, light-coloured flannels, bright shirts and these new wide ties with fist-sized Windsor knots which, so his sister assured him, were the latest fashion back home. But when he met with Fanshawe, Dalmire, and Jones, the Commission's accountant, they made him feel cheap and flashy, like some travelling salesman. Even Jones had taken up shorts since Dalmire's arrival. Morgan detested the sight of his fat little Welsh knees peeking out between the hem of his shorts and the top of his socks like two bald, wrinkled babies' heads.

Morgan wearily dragged his attention back to Dalmire who was saying something while still dreamily staring out of the window.

Excerpted from A Good Man in Africa by William Boyd Copyright 2003 by William Boyd. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.

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William Boyd