Free Women 4
‘When he was here two years ago, he was very depressed. He had spent weeks trying to see the Colonial Secretary, and being snubbed. He had a pretty good idea he’d be in prison very soon. He’s a very intelligent man, Marion.’
‘Yes, I’m sure he is.’ Marion’s smile at Anna was quick and involuntary, as if to say: Yes, you’re being clever, I know what you’re getting at.
‘On Sunday he rang me up and said he was tired and he needed a rest. So I took him down to Greenwich on the river boat. On the way back he was very silent. He sat in the boat smiling. He was looking at the banks. You know, Marion, it’s very impressive, coming back from Greenwich, the solid mass of London? The County Council Building? And the enormous commercial buildings. And the wharves and the ships and the docks. And then Westminster …’ (Anna was talking, softly, still interested to find out what she was going to say next.) ‘Everything’s been there for centuries. I asked him what he was thinking. He said: I don’t get discouraged by the white settlers. I wasn’t discouraged when I was in prison last time - history’s on the side of our people. But this afternoon I feel the weight of the British empire on me like a gravestone. He said: Do you realize how many generations it takes to make a society where buses run on time? Where business letters get answered efficiently? Where you can trust your ministers not to take bribes? We were passing Westminster and I remember thinking that very few of those politicians could have half his qualities - because he’s a sort of saint, Marion …’
Anna’s voice cracked. She heard it and thought: Now I know what’s happening. I’m hysterical. I’ve gone right over into Marion’s and Tommy’s hysteria. I’ve got no control at all over what I’m doing. She was thinking: I use a word like saint - I never use it when I’m myself. I don’t know what it means. Her voice continued, higher, rather shrill: ‘Yes, he is a saint. An ascetic, but not a neurotic one. I said to him it was very sad to think of African independence being turned into a question of punctual buses and neatly typed business letters. He said it might be sad, but that was how his country would be judged.’
Anna had begun to cry. She sat crying, watching herself cry. Marion watched her, leaning forward, bright-eyed, curious, full of disbelief. Anna controlled her tears and went on: ‘We got off at Westminster. We walked past Parliament. He said - I suppose he was thinking of those little politicians inside it - “I shouldn’t have been a politician at all. In a national liberation movement all kinds of men get involved almost by accident, like leaves being sucked into a dust-devil.” Then he thought that over for a moment, and he said: “I think it’s quite likely that after we get our independence I’ll find myself in prison again. I’m the wrong type for the first few years of a revolution. I’m uncomfortable making popular speeches. I’m happier writing analytical articles.” Then we went into a place to have some tea and he said: “One way and another I expect to spend a good deal of my life in prison.” That’s what he said!’