Sérgio F. Monteiro began working on this novel ten years ago, to challenge himself to write a compelling crime/detective novel, choosing a subject matter close to his heart, the Cape Verde Islands. “It was a story that I thought needed telling about my homeland’s history of boat migrants leaving for the Americas and Europe,” the author explains.
While spending six years living in Cabo Verde from 2000, working in commercial shipping at the Port of Praia and in real estate, selling mainly holiday homes to the English, Irish and Italians, he first learned about the phenomenon of migrating boat people. “Whenever their boats from mainly the coast of West Africa were intercepted by Cabo-Verdeano authorities it was always treated as big news in a small town,” says Sérgio.
Cape Verde served as a booming trading post for African slaves sent to America and Europe after the previously uninhabited, rocky isles were colonised by the Portuguese from the 15th Century until Independence in 1975. Having grown up in Washington D.C in the United States in diplomatic circles, and knowing the history of slavery, he was “instantly struck by the parallels to slavery of times past in folk seeking a better life.
“Their boats would regularly wash up on our shores once or twice every three months, and happened often enough for the authorities and local people to coin a phrase for the immigrants, ‘Clandestinos.'”
The idea for writing and researching the novel took root in 2006. It did not take the author long to realise that to tell the story and do justice to the bravery of migrating Cape Verdean men, women and children, as well as present a true to life account of his little-known country, he had to widen the scope of the narrative. “A crime novel formula was insufficient to tell the whole story. I needed to go back in time to explain more about this island nation and look forwards to the future to render into words the picture I had painted so vividly in my mind.
“I wanted to explore the motivations of what makes people leave their homes and everything familiar and beloved to them behind, to risk their lives on rickety and poorly operated boats headed for strange lands, where they would start over from scratch. My own people had been engaged in this practice from as early as 1914. I knew I had to go beyond the traditional literary techniques in my attempt to produce something original and real that would perhaps change government policies, attitudes and even the perception of migrants in foreign lands.”
Excerpts from the novel
Chapter One: Amulets of Fear
From Prainha Beach, the stars stretched across the horizon like millions of diamonds raining at night. They stretched down the rocky volcanic coast past Cebra Canela beach and the Tropical Hotel as the eastern coast of Santiago Island rose and travelled towards Cidade Velha, 30 kilometres away.
There the stars rained down meeting the water, where it danced with its own light and noise. The sound of waves was a deafening whisper that covered all others, even the sound of a lone stranger, wading in the dark water alone two kilometres from the shore.
The night’s chill bit at his bones and the water was cold, even for this usually warm patch of the Atlantic Ocean. He was running out of energy and at any moment his body was going to shut down from exhaustion but this was just as he wanted, just as he needed.
The undercurrents clutched at his toes like the fingers of demons as miniature waves of salt water crashed into his face. The stranger had chosen wisely to economize his breathes for he was not certain how many of them he had left, nor for how much longer he could maintain them.
Like the moonlight illuminating from the direction of the current, his mind remained clear as he gently edged himself into the tide’s push, moving his legs in a scissor motion with the water below. Using the force of the waves crashing against him to nudge ever closer to land. The tide was coming in now and the currents would take him towards the rocks that loomed like a dark wall in the distance. Hopefully he had timed it correctly, another half kilometre and he would have cheated death once again.
The stranger’s thoughts lingered around death, though he never once thought of dying. His calm undaunted by the fear because, to him, death had become like an old friend who remained indifferent if not greeted when passing. His mind wandered to the ghost stories of fisherman and pirates falling into the breaking crests of these waters. How those strong men had thought they could pull themselves back out only to have their hope swallowed by under currents that seemed to reach up from the depths of hell.
“Not long now,” he said to himself. “I am come for you.”
It seemed death had closed on him once again. Just as it had in Liberia when he was a boy and the jungles of Guinea Bissau as a man. But those battlefields had long since taught him that in war, the fear of death was the most useless of human emotions. That it served no purpose other than to condemn the soldier to that which he feared. The stranger feared nothing anymore for his purpose and wars were condemned from the beginning. The words of the old witch hung in his ears.
“Yours is the most devious of man’s devices, you must call on fear unlike any other that exists in the physical world.”
The old witch had told him that to completely kill the spirit of his prey he must first use an amulet of fear. A live object that he had invoked fear into. The last Ghanaian boy on board the fishing boat had given him just that, though he was unable to finish the ritual by slicing the Ghanaian boy’s neck and watching him bleed to death amongst his dead companions, but all was not lost. The stranger felt the lining on the inside of his shorts where a small lump reassured him that at least, the Ghanaian boy had still given him the precious amulet of fear.
The anger briefly rushed through him that the fishing boat couldn’t have gotten closer to the shore. If only the army had not shown up, he would have had time to complete his designs but that must come later. In another half an hour he will have reached the rocks where a 30-metre climb up the jagged bricks of the ancient fort hanging over the cliff face will lead him to someone that has been waiting his arrival. For that, he hopes O Nigeriano can still be trusted. He will soon complete his mission but first, he would have to find Kwame.
“Not long now Kwame,” he chanted to the stars.
Chapter Seven: American Boys
The 30-metre cliff stood unmoving as the water crashed into its jagged profile above the sea. Invisible droplets fell onto the edge, disappeared and then were replaced just as quickly. For miles the sound of the sea was a deafening darkness of white noise that travelled away from the cliff and towards the sleepy town centre of Cidade Velha. Spreading, like a cloud of expanding silence as it vibrated through the ions of the gravel road leading back to Praia, passing straight through the white Chevrolet truck, with two passengers, parked in wait for the seas to open.
Inside the truck a hand moved furtively around the glove compartment, reaching and rummaging for the little white bag of pure cocaine. From the driver’s seat, Romari watched his partner’s actions as if observing a wild animal. Keith’s piercing wild eyes fixed in a cocaine stare towards the sea in front of them as he fumbled to retrieve the bag with absolute attention.
They sat as they had done for the past three nights. Waiting in the early morning darkness, just precluding dawn, for a third man they had never seen. On the cliffs of Cidade Velha, overlooking the rough seas, Romari and Keith were like the sentinels of past, watching for the billowing sails of approaching pirate ships.
Keith’s cold hands found their target and the cocaine was being gently patted onto the scratched cover of a CD perched on his knee. A plastic card crafted the mound into a neat line of white powder.
“Yo, you got the straw?’’ Keith asked, sweat boiling on his brow and dripping from his long eyelashes.
“Yeah man’’ replied Romari, pulling the red and white straw from the pocket of his shirt and passing it into Keith’s shaking fingers. Romari regarded the shell of what was left of his best friend.
Keith bent over to his knee and the sound was like ripping a wet piece of sand paper as Keith snorted his 15th line of cocaine that night.
Afterwards Romari glanced into Keith’s eyes and was convinced that they had lost all remnants of anything that could still be called human. How they now gazed forth in a translucent dull stare. As if they were no longer able to hide the fact that Keith had become a vessel for the greed and desire that had taken over him. Romari knew that this was the one by-product of being a hit-man that was the hardest to avoid and the guilt for that, Romari would have to take alone.