He wasn't sure whether the noise he could hear was his heart pounding or his knees knocking. Even the moon's brightness didn't penetrate enough to show the faces of the black-skinned troops who were confronting the pair in the African Bush. He thought that if only he had listened to the others and had a European girlfriend all would have been well. But the tall African girl at his side was now a big problem. She spoke rapidly in Hausa to the sergeant, who seemed less than happy - she had told Sven to play dumb - "don't open your mouth - it will only make it worse!" had been her exact words. He believed her. He wondered whether, like an animal, the soldiers could sense or smell his fear. He wondered if it would hurt, or whether there would just be a blinding light and nothing. Would he hear the noise of the shot? He knew the rifles were cocked and loaded, ready to fire. They were too efficient for it to be otherwise; their eyes didn't blink or flicker in the moonlight.
Suddenly the talking was over. Julia still stood, half in front of him, her right arm across his chest. The sergeant spat noisily, the betel nut he had been chewing now finished. "Piss off, just piss off, both of you. I don't want to see you round here again - and if you know what's good for you you'll find a nice black man - if your father finds out..." Then he turned and walked into the moonlit darkness. One of the other members of the patrol spat in the dirt, insolently, as they turned to follow; then they were gone as quietly as they had arrived.
Julia turned to Sven - Sven the younger, perhaps? - and held him tight. They were both shaking, frightened witless by the experience. Neither needed to tell the other that it had been a close call. This was Nigeria during the '66 Civil War; if Julia had been of the wrong tribe, they would both have been beaten, he killed, she raped, then both thrown to the crocodiles in the local river. She was a Chieftain's daughter, and he did know; that was why they were here, a few miles out in the bush, hoping for a last quiet meeting. Both knew the affair had to end. The young white man knew now what racial discrimination was like.
Julia's family had been very civilised about the matter. The letter, an invitation, was not to be ignored - best 'bib & tucker' and then drive to the house in the compound to the north of the city. It was an evening and a meal that would be imprinted on his mind forever. Civil, yes; welcome, hardly. Sven felt that Julia's two brothers had been told to behave. This was a wealthy family - all English University education, Julia as well, unusual in the '60's for a woman in an African family. Yes, they were progressive, but to welcome a white man as a prospective husband did not enter the agenda. Sven suspected that Julia's mother knew that they had been sleeping together; her father preferred to believe his youngest child, his only daughter, the apple of his eye, even at twenty-three, was still pure. Sven had grinned inwardly at that.
The meal was good, the wine pleasant, the company punctilious, the message uncompromising. "I am not totally without feeling," he had said. "You may see my daughter one more time and say your farewells; then if you try to contact her again I will have you killed!"
He said it in the same way that he had just asked for his wineglass to be filled. It was so matter of fact that it was obvious that it was no idle threat. If they disobeyed, Sven knew he was dead. So this had been the last meeting. They had not known what to do or where to go, and now they had almost been killed anyway. They leaned back on the wing of the little MG Midget, and she clung to him, sobbing gently, the shock of what had happened overwhelming her briefly. He held her close, his hand rubbing her back gently. In the distance was the noise of the army Landrover starting, then driving off. They were left alone again. Totally alone amongst the gentle noises of the bush at night.