Our Bureau Chief Darren took us out for a magnificent dinner last night. The Russia House is one of, if not the, best restaurants in Joburg. The occasion was our trip to Port Selao the next day. It was a last supper of sorts though no one articulated that in so many words. My new teammates Michael Watso and Peter Atowabene came with their girlfriends. Darren brought his lovely wife, Claire. Mikela joined me of course. She could barely contain her excitement. The Russia House is a place we’ve always wanted to visit. Even better to visit on someone else’s tab.
The room is lush and opulent bringing to mind the final days of the Russian Czars. Darren pointed out that the beautiful murals on each wall were painted in gold leaf.
The vodka began pouring and conversation was easy. Everyone was in a festive mood. We all wanted to keep things jovial. Most of us have been in war zones before and we all know how unpredictable they are. No need to go over the grim details. Best to enjoy the company you’re keeping. These will be the good times to feed us during the dark days ahead.
Gifts were exchanged. I received a beautiful new watch from Darren. A pretty penny, no doubt. And for that reason, I’ll be leaving it with Mikela. Otherwise, I may get my hand lopped off. Peter got a new camera lens which seemed to take him by surprise. Michael received a fine pair of sunglasses that made him look older than his 26 years.
The funniest moment of the evening came when Michael’s girlfriend presented a large gift for the team. Being the lead, I was given the honour of unwrapping this monstrosity – a battery operated toy soldier complete with cotton clothing and removable helmet. We laid him among the caviar and silverware. He sprung to life and crawled his way across the linen stopping every few inches to start ‘firing’ his toy gun – a ‘ra-ta-tat’ sound with a red light flashing from the gun nozzle. This set us into hysterics.
I caught Mikela’s eye and knew this was no joke to her. These last few months have been hard and they were about to get harder. An evening of levity was not the sort of antidote she needed to steel herself for my trip.
We all left and thanked Darren for a wonderful evening. Mikela and I were very quiet on the way home. We snuck into Hope’s room and silently watched her sleeping. I worry for her and our small girl. I’ve promised Mikela that I won’t be reckless while away. These two people are my world. As much as I have a job to do, I do it all for them. I’m no good to them if I turn up dead.