Sunday, June 26, 2005


We have become accustomed, every night at around nine o’clock, to filling the electric kettle half-way and boiling it up for a cup of coffee for Valentino. He sits outside on an old pillow on the concrete stoop that runs around the outside of the house. These days, he wears a long khaki trench coat with a hood (which is always up) and the grey wooly balaclava that frames his face, a weathered leathered dark brown circle of a cheeky grin. It is windy and cold at night and there is no banda to protect him from the cold. He says that all the other guards refuse to come to our house because it is a hard environment with no protection from the chill of southern highlands’ nights. He says, “Fide!” (he pronounces it almost like Fidel) “Fide!” he shouts from outside, “Mbona hujaweka sukari?” He seems genuinely distressed. He wants more sugar. I tell him his teeth will fall out at this rate and he laughs, I’m already an old man and I still have my teeth! He taps his teeth and, indeed, they are still there. He stands there grinning at my youthful ignorance, holding out the cup. We have learnt that the ideal formula is 5:1 sugar to coffee – anything less and Valentino won’t drink it. We are going through sugar like nobody’s business. We have become wrapped around Valentino’s little finger, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. He has become a member of this bizarre family of four young people living together, a sort of mischievous grandfather and guardian not just of the house and its contents and us, but also of something as constant and reliable as a cup of sugary coffee every evening.