I am waiting in the arrivals hall at the airport in Antananarivo. Friends have just arrived from South Africa, 45 minutes before our scheduled departure on a smaller plane to the South of Madagascar. The baggage claim is bedlam. The airport’s organisational capacity is deeply compromised because two planes arrived within 10 minutes of each other. If my friends can find their bags, and make their way passed the overly inquisitive customs official, we might just make our connection.
While I wait, I delicately scratch a mosquito bite on my calf with my big toe. A policeman sidles up to me and strikes up a conversation. The usual: where are you from, what are you doing here. A fair amount of friendly, smiling. He is portly with a few gold teeth. In my finest French, I tell him about our trip to Nosy Be, how beautiful Madagascar is. What a pleasure it is to be here.
‘And the Malagasy women are very beautiful, too, non?’ He asks with a pervy wink.
‘Wonderfully beautiful.’ I agree, distracted by the sight of my friends scrumming for their bags on the carousel.
‘Have you got a Malagasy girlfriend?’ Asks the friendly policeman.
‘Uh… no, I don’t.’
‘That’s too bad.’ he says. ‘Would you like one?’
Whoa! What’s this, a Malagasy sex tourism sting operation? Entrapment or entrepreneurialism?
‘Um, not really.’ I answer carefully.
‘’She’s really beautiful.’ He insists. ‘Wait here, I’ll go fetch her.’
‘What? No wait.’ I put a hand on his shoulder. He looks at it with that policeman look that says, now you’ve crossed the line, buddy. I remove my hand.
‘You see, I’m travelling with my fiancée.’ I explain.
‘Hmmm.’ He says shiftily. ‘That’s too bad.’
Deflated, he pauses to think. ‘Is not possible for you to take both?’
‘No.’ I say. ‘Is not possible.’
There’s a long pause. Finally he says,‘What did you bring this fiancée for?’
‘Well, she’s my fiancée.’ I counter. ‘We’re getting married soon.’
‘Oh.’ He nods his head thoughtfully. ‘Next time you come to Madagascar, don’t bring her.’ He advises. ‘Malagasy women very beautiful, and good at fait l’amour.’ He says pumping a fist back and forth. Then says nothing. Gives me the thousand yard stare.
We stand uncomfortably, silent, looking at people through the glass window scrumming for their bags on the carousel or having said bags thoroughly searched by the customs officer. I start to try and shift away from the policeman. But he’s quick, and well practiced. He closes the gap and gets up close to me and says, almost directly into my ear.
‘Listen… uh… I helped you out, back there… You know,’ He pauses. ‘We almost had a deal.’
I look at him incredulously. No we didn’t.
‘So can you give me and my partner here some money, just a little something for a beer after work, un petit coup.’ He points to a skinny, older cop with a worse set of teeth, who has been standing next to him all the while, now smiling a gummy smile.
I think about this for a moment. I’ll certainly pay him to leave me alone. But I’m not going to fish out my wallet and hand over cash to a policeman in the Arrivals hall of the nation’s largest airport.
‘I can’t give you money in public.’ I say.
‘No!’ He agrees, nodding his head enthusiastically. ‘Go with my partner to the toilet.’ He nods to the tall gummy one.
Yeesh Davis, how did you get into this one? Resigned, I start walking towards the bathroom, we enter a small corridor and I quickly pull out the equivalent of R20 and palm it off to the tall gummy cop. Just as I do this a Madagascan customs official rounds the corner. Catches the exchange, both our hands on the money. He says nothing. Gummy cop smiles and stuffs the cash into his pocket, then says thank you and shakes my hand vigorously.
We walk back to the Arrivals hall just in time to see my friends clear customs. The race is now on to make our connecting flight. Pushing a trolley at full speed, I round a corner and come face to face with the other cop with the gold teeth.
He stops my speeding trolley, by holding his hand up like he’s directing traffic. He smiles a friendly smile.
‘This money is only enough for two beers.’