This is the continuation of 'Azra, the girl from Suriname - Part 3'.
If you haven't read that one yet, you can find it here: /@angie08/azra-the-girl-from-suriname-part-3
We drove together to NIS, a building shaped like a box, but a big box. I was shocked at the number of people, the cars, the cops walking around with a sullen look as if they would prefer to shoot everyone there. We walked towards the entrance where a large wide staircase gave access to glass doors, only two of which were open. I noticed that there were two entrances. On one side only employees were allowed in, on the other side the public was allowed in. Our bags were checked before we were allowed in through the narrow door. There, on the left side, you immediately had a hallway that led to a restroom group. A large wide staircase led to the second floor. Sean walked up those stairs and I followed him. The stairs led to a wide hallway which on the left had doors leading to the balcony, which I later found out surrounded the entire building, and on the right there were small coves with steps leading to the auditorium with bleachers. Between the small inlets there were counters where drinks were displayed.
Sean beckoned me to follow him further and went up the steps at one of the inlets. Inside it was terribly hot. On the bleachers with wooden seats, several people sat staring straight ahead, others nearly fell over from sleep, and still others sat quietly chatting, probably hoping not to fall asleep.
Sean took a seat on one of the chairs and I plopped down in the chair next to him. He sat and chatted with me for a while and finally told me exactly what was going on. Certain numbers were not correct. The ballots needed to be counted again, but the counting had been suspended. The workers who had been working non-stop for more than 24 hours were worn out. They had gone home to rest. But the people were restless. They wanted to know who had won the election. It was abundantly clear that the VHP had more votes. But one also needed to know how many votes the other parties had. He told them that the NDP had still determined a lot of votes, more than he had expected. The people were struggling. Now they were surviving, but many had the idea that if the NDP came back into the coalition, the country would go to hell. I felt sorry for the people. Many had swollen faces because they had stayed awake far too long.
'But what is actually happening here? Why were all these people waiting here?', I asked.
'They are afraid of being corrupted. They can secretly make ballots disappear, they can cause fires, or commit acts that cause arguments and invalidate the election. People are afraid of that. That's why you always see the groups here trying to stay calm. If it gets too chaotic, people can comment on it and the independent electoral office can choose to declare the election invalid.'
'Why would they to do that?'
'Because they already know they will lose. There is a trial going on against Bouterse, our president. As long as he's president, it's harder to put him in jail. If the election is declared invalid now, they have to organize another one. That could take months. That gives him more time to bribe people and his party can win the election again. Then he becomes president of Suriname again. That is what we think though. We don't know what they are planning.'
I nodded as if I understood it all. I had indeed read about the trial of Bouterse. Apparently he had killed a lot of important people in the country in December 1982. So how does a murderer become president? Had he actually committed the murders? I didn't know. Online I had come across so many conflicting reports. I looked suspiciously at Sean and wondered where he was getting his information. Did he really know what was going on or did he have this information from gossip? Everyone around here was screaming and acting as if what they knew or thought they knew was the truth. All the gossip, if it was gossip, only created more tension.
'Sean?', I called out.
'So it could very well be that they are burning down this building with all these people here?'
Sean looked at me and started laughing.
'No. Nothing will happen. But we just want to be on guard. The more eyes keeping watch here, the better.'
I nodded. For a while we sat silently looking around. I recognized one of the young men I had also seen on television.
'Who is that Sean?'
'That boy over there. I saw him on TV.'
I pointed to the boy in blue jeans and light blue shirt who was sitting quietly talking to some people who had surrounded him.
'Oh...him? That's Pakkittow. That's what they call him. His name is Stephano Biervliet.'
'Does he work here too?'
'No, he's also a politician. Founded his own political party too. But he became more famous after he held a protest. I think it was in February.'
'Ooooh..I think I saw that then! There were protests going on downtown when we were just here. My friends were here then too.'
'Yes. There were protests against Bouterse.'
'Oh ok ok.'
'There are a lot of people who supported Pakkittow and still do now. He is considered a fighter.'
I nodded. After a brief silence, Sean stood up, saying he was going to see his other friends for a while. I nodded again. Sean, however, stayed away longer than a moment. I started to bale and then walked out of the inner hall.
Outside on the balcony it was cool. The wind was blowing nicely and I decided it wouldn't hurt to stand there for a while. A number of people were standing in small groups chatting on the balcony. I leaned against the railing that ran around the balcony and looked down at all the cops and soldiers at the gate and at all the people walking around with serious faces. Still others tried to have a pleasant chat, but the tension could be felt. It was a pity that this country had these kinds of problems. It was small and there wasn't much to do here, at least not as much as in Holland, but it was nice and warm and the people he had met so far had all been very nice and friendly.
He couldn't imagine his mother's parents staying here either. According to his mother, they were not nearly as friendly. Slowly but surely it became eight o'clock; the lockdown went into effect and people were no longer allowed in or out of the building.
Although I had chosen to come here with Sean, I now had a feeling of dread. The fact that no one could come here anymore or that we were not allowed to leave until six in the morning was scary. What was I even doing here? This was not my country, these were not my people! I could have just slept in my bed now, but so instead I was standing here staring at police officers in gray and blue suits and people who probably hadn't had any sleep for 48 hours by now.
But I did know who I was here for. For Sean. Sean had always stood by me, from the time my friends were gone until now. There wasn't much I could do for Sean now, but I had noticed that he was happy with my presence. In fact, I needed to get back to him. But where was he? Maybe he was still busy. He would call if he didn't see me inside.
Would I smoke a cigarette in the meantime? My hand went towards my pocket, when my gaze fell on a girl smoking at the very end of the corridor. Black shorts, black t- shirt, black slippers. She was leaning casually against one of the pillars on the balcony with a cigarette in hand. Her hair hung loose and the wind whipped through it. Was it a Indian girl? Yes, it looked like it.
I remained standing for a moment looking at her. Her light brown skin contrasted sharply against all the black she had on. Something about her was attracting me. I didn't know what.
I looked around at the other people who were standing in groups talking and laughing. Then I looked at the girl again and slowly walked toward her. When I was about a meter from her, she looked up nervously. All this time she had been looking ahead, moving only to bring the cigarette to her lips and back. She looked at me for a moment, but when she saw that I remained a meter away and was not moving forward, she looked straight ahead again. I leaned against the balcony railing and looked at the street. After a while I dared to look at her again. She was staring at me.
'What do you want?', she asked in an icy voice. I was startled.
'Ow..uhm..', I muttered.
Panicking, I rubbed my one hand against my thigh and felt the pack of cigarettes in my pocket. 'I was wondering if you could borrow me a cigarette,'I said in panic. She frowned.
'When do I get it back?'
'You said you wanted to borrow a cigarette.'
'Ow no, sorry. I didn't mean that. Do you have a cigarette for me?'
She continued to stare at me for a while. Then she stood up straight, took out a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and handed them to me. As she continued to enjoy her cigarette, she watched me light mine. I handed her back the pack of cigarettes.
'I saw it,'she said.
'That packet in your pocket.'
'Sorry, I couldn't think of anything else so quickly.'
A smile formed on her face.
'So, what do you want?'
'Well, nothing really. I was balking inside, came out and saw you standing here. Maybe you were in the mood for a chat.'
'You're wrong. I enjoyed standing alone.'
'Oh. Well too bad then. I'll be off then.'
'No you can't.'
By now I had turned around. I turned to her again and frowned. 'What makes you think I can't?'
'Because I say so.'
I continued to look at her frowning.
She looked at me with fierce eyes as if she wanted to throw me down from the balcony. But then her icy gaze thawed and she said, 'Tell me. What is a Dutchman doing here?'
I have come to give the Surinamese a hand to save their country.'
She smiled. 'Social worker?
I nodded and said, 'My friend came here. So I just came along to support him. 'And you? What are you doing all alone here?'
'I also come to lend a hand to the Surinamese to save their country.'
I smiled. It was silent for a while. She continued to look ahead and I tried to decipher every little wrinkle I could see in the semi-darkness. After her cigarette burned out, she puffed it out and put it in one of the trays specially placed for cigarettes. Then she looked at me again and asked, "Did you get a good look at me yet?
'Do you really see everything?'
She laughed. 'Maybe so. I'm balking, too. My gut told me not to come here, but still I did. And now I'm sitting here being bored.'
'Not so social after all, then?'
'Not that. But I'm not doing anything here. I'm not helping save the country. There are plenty of people keeping watch here. My girlfriend just dragged me here. I'm not even super active in politics, even though I do understand people's behavior.'
'I get you. But if you're here with your girlfriend, where is she?'
'Inside. She's in her hammock.'
'Yes, didn't you see the hammocks inside?'
'No, I didn't pay attention.'
'Yes, they are sleeping inside.'
'Then what's the point of being here if you're sleeping anyway.'
'Good point. But they take turns I believe. Her and the other girlfriends.'
'Aah ok, what about you? Don't you have any sleep?'
'No. I don't sleep much.'
'I sleep a lot.'
'Would you like to go for a walk?' she said, gesturing towards the corridor that ran through on the other side of the building.
'On what you want to do with me in that dark corridor,' I said, pointing to the corridor. Indeed, it was much darker on that side than where we were standing, due to the low lighting. She pressed her lips together.
'You'll just have to find that out for yourself', she said, already walking down the corridor. With hurried steps, I went after her.
'Look at us. You're here for your friend. I'm here for my friend. And neither of them is thinking about us.'
'Well, then we have each other.'
I smiled and continued to stare at her again as we slowly walked on. I couldn't remember ever meeting another girl who was as pretty or prettier. She was beautiful and mysterious.
'So, you are here with your friend. Do you live in Suriname? Or are you here temporarily? You have a Dutch accent.'
The ice was broken. I could hear from her voice that she was loosening up. So I told her about my vacation and my lost passport. I don't know exactly how long we talked that night. When Sean called me, it was 12:30 in the morning.
'I'm sitting outside talking,'I said.
Sean informed me that he was inside and that I should just call him when I finished my chat.
'I'll come to you then', he said.
However, that would not happen. Over the next few hours, the girl and I had walked inside. We sat on one of the large staircases leading to the upper bleachers. Azra, her name, was telling me about her life. She was 23, living with a friend in an apartment they had rented. She came from a Indian family, which still believed that ladies should be married off. Her sisters had already been married off at 21. But Azra had steadfastly refused. When her father had put pressure on her, she had run away from home with a bag of clothes and her savings. Now she kept to herself. She worked in a contact center and helped Dutch customers from there. I was amazed. I didn't know such a thing existed. Enthusiastically, she told me how she answered e-mails from customers every day, who had questions about products that could be ordered online.
'So it could well be that I've had email contact with you at some point?' ,I asked.
'Could be!' , she laughed.
'So do you work with Dutch times?'
'Yes. We start at four in the morning here. Then in Holland it's already nine o'clock. At least in the summer. The other way around, we start at five o'clock, because the time difference with Holland is then four hours.'
'Until what time do you work then?'
'Until nine o'clock. After that I go to lectures. I want to finish my studies.'
'What are you studying?'
'Wow, a smart head.'
She laughed. I told her about my architecture career in the Netherlands and about my plans to open my own architecture firm.
By the end of that morning, I felt like I had known Azra for months. It was already getting a little light outside when we got up and walked out. Azra wanted to go to the bathroom and I walked with her. Outside in the hallway I kept waiting for her to come back.
'Mark, I'm going back to my friends now.'
'Yes of course. It was nice getting to know you.'
I looked back. It was Sean.
'Where were you? The lockdown has long since been lifted. I'm going to leave. Are you coming?', he asked.
'Yes I'm coming.'
I turned to Azra, but she was not there. Now that it was lighter outside, many more people were walking into the hallway. I tried to find her in the crowd, but she was nowhere to be seen. Where had she disappeared to? Oh no, I hadn't taken her number. I ran down the hallway and looked around. Nowhere. No trace of Azra. I frowned. Had she been swallowed by the morning sun? Sean came running up to me.
'Looking for someone?', he asked.
'Yes. Azra... I was talking to a girl. But I don't see her anywhere now!'
'Ooooh, that's why you stayed away all evening. I was wondering who you were talking to.'
'Sean! I have to find her!'
I ran further down the corridor. 'Where the hell did she go!
'Calm down Mark.'
'No! I didn't take her phone number! Shit! Shit! Shit!'
'That's pretty smart. What was her name you said? Can't you look her up on Facebook? Or some other social media website?'
'I don't know her last name! But I can try.'
I immediately pulled my cell phone out of my pocket.
'Hey, can we go home first? You have internet there too!' , Sean said and pulled me along.
Will Mark and Azra see each other again? I'll tell you tomorrow! Until then.