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Authors: Melanie Finn

The Gloaming

BOOK: The Gloaming

Praise for The Gloaming

• Shortlisted for
2015 •

“A paean to a magical continent of silent forests, slow, dark rivers, wild green mangroves; a world populated by child ghosts, haunted whites, and AK-47-toting rebels. It is through this heart of darkness, a landscape rich in possibilities, that Pilgrim stumbles towards the light.”

New Zealand Herald

“A thought-provoking novel… deftly set in a world of mercenaries, philanthropists, and witch doctors in polyester suits, the book asks how one atones for atrocity.”


“Full of empathy and intelligence… The ending is startlingly optimistic and very moving.”

Sydney Morning Herald


The Australian

“I rarely get as invested in the outcome of a novel as I did reading
The Gloaming
, but the empathies that Melanie Finn evokes in this powerful and unpredictable book are not casual; these traumas could be our own. These characters could be us. And so, the themes are familiar and unyielding: Pain. The past. That flyspeck point of convergence where they meet. The regrettable inevitability of everything that passes after that. And shame. Her prose is hypnotic and knife-precise and at times so beautiful it's unnerving. I didn't read this book so much as I experienced it and it will haunt me for a very, very long time.”

Jill Alexander Essbaum


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The Gloaming
by Melanie Finn was published in slightly different form as
, in 2015 in Great Britian by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, an Hachette UK Company.

Copyright © 2016 by Melanie Finn

All rights reserved

ISBN: 978-1-937512-47-7

ISBN Epub: 978-1-937512-54-5

Library of Congress Control Number available upon request.

Author photograph:
Britta Jaschinki

Cover image:
Ladies' Home Journal
, 1889, Newell Convers Wyeth

No portion of this book may be copied or reproduced, with the exception of quotes used in critical essays and reviews, without the written permission of the publisher

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's lively imagination. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental

Printed in Canada

For Matthew

Table of Contents

The Summer Before

Magulu, April 27

Magulu, April 28

Magulu, April 29

Arnau, March 12

Magulu, April 30

Bern, March 13

Magulu, May 1

Arnau, March 14

Magulu, May 2

Arnau, March 15

Magulu, May 3

Magulu, May 5

Magulu, May 7

Arnau, March 17

Magulu, May 8

Arnau, March 18

Magulu, May 10

Magulu, May 12

Arnau, March 19

Magulu, May 15

Magulu—Butiama, May 16

Arnau, March 20

Tanga, May 21

Arnau, March 21

Tanga, May 22

Tanga, May 25

Arnau, April 17

Tanga, May 26

Geneva, April 18

Tanga, May 28

Tanga, May 29

Tanga, May 30

Arnau, April 19

Tanga, May 31

Arnau, April 21

Tanga, May 31, 8:13 p.m

Arnau, March 12








The Summer Before

We were living in Geneva, the high, light apartment on Rue Saint-Léger. We had just come back from two years in East Timor, and we reveled in the cleanliness of Europe, how easy it was to buy what you wanted: a certain kind of shampoo, books, fresh asparagus, Italian shoes. We went for weekends to Paris or Amsterdam or Berlin or to the country house of some new, interesting friends.

At such a house we met Elise. I've considered that it's possible we met her before but she was simply so forgettable that I didn't remember. Even this particular time, I recall only certain details.

It was early June, a heat wave. The house was on the far side of Lac Léman, right on the water. Tom and I had the attic bedroom and we jokingly called it Manila, it was so hot and humid in the small room.

Elise wasn't staying at the house, she only came for lunch on the Sunday. She was an odd, little mouse of a person with sharp, almost twitchy, movements. She didn't say much. But she was sitting next to Tom at the table, and he spoke to her, engaged her, as he did everyone. Even a little mouse.

After lunch, Tom and I napped, and, waking bathed in sweat, took a cold shower. We made love. It was reflex, turning our bodies without thought or premeditation, the way I might twist my hair into a chignon or Tom would button his shirt. I took for granted that sexual ease, believed it sufficient. ‘Let me look at you,' he said, taking. ‘Love, love, love,' he whispered, and the holding, and how it always felt, the slow belonging to.

When we came downstairs, the host suggested a walk. About seven of us went. Along the lake edge, a well-worn path, the day still high with solstice heat and bright summer light. It was too hot to hold hands so I let go of Tom. I walked ahead by myself for a short while. I'd had enough conversation, and I wanted to watch a flotilla of sculls and their lovely rhythm, the oars pawing the sun-tinted water.

The group was behind me, not far, so that I was aware of their murmuring and bouts of laughter. I looked back. Tom was talking again with Elise, bending slightly to hear her, for she was not only a small person, but she spoke softly. The breathless air held everything in place, like a still life; any movement seemed amplified, impulsive: a swallow dipping against the water, a shiver in the long grass of an unknowable creature. Elise's hands fluttering up to her face as she laughed at something Tom said.


Magulu, April 27

The sound of it, metal squealing, torquing: the sound of it pounces.

The glass, tinkling: the sound snow might make, and how it fell with just that grace and beauty.

Even with my eyes open. Even in daylight. Even in another country. A faraway country where nothing is the same, not the light, not the faces. The trees, even, are a different green.

I force myself to look at the trees.

Baobabs, figs, acacias.

We pass a man in a pink shirt on a bicycle. He wobbles slightly, for the road is narrow and uncertain. The road lacks confidence. It changes tack, only to veer back again; it widens and then contracts. Should it be here? Or over there?

A woman with a red bucket balanced on her head turns down a path and instantly disappears into the bush. Thick bush, a tangled, knitted green stretching over the earth, a hot wool itching with insects, snakes and birds.

I look at the green. The leaves are stitched together with sunlight.

‘Jack, you gotta stop,' says Bob. His wife, Melinda, has her hand over her mouth. Her eyes are panicky. Jackson stops. Melinda opens the door, leans out, retches. She's been vomiting for the last two hours. When she sits back, I hand her a bottle of water.

We are in the car driving to Magulu where there is a government clinic. The hotel manager suggested Melinda call in the flying doctor. But she told him her eldest brother died at Dunkirk. Her mother is 101. If the government clinic is good enough for Tanzanians, then it's good enough for her.

Melinda was horrified by the beggars in Arusha, by everything since—the huts people live in, the scabby dogs, the waiters at the hotel who make less in one month than she and Bob have spent for one night in the room. She's talked a lot to—at—Jackson about civil rights in America. Which he knows nothing about. He's never even heard of Martin Luther King.

Bob says, ‘It must have been the fruit salad. Everything else we had was the same.'

I say, ‘I had the fruit salad.'

Bob glances at me. He's secretly annoyed. He likes to be right. But it's also very important to him to be polite. And protective, paternal in an old-fashioned, vaguely chauvinistic way. He insists on buying me a cocktail every evening. On holding open every door. He's probably my father's age, but nothing like him.

This was supposed to be a private safari, just Bob and Melinda, touring the Tanzanian bush. But at the last minute I arrived and the safari company added me. Melinda made Bob agree because it cut their cost by a third. She's very conscious about money—about the guilt she feels in having more in her wallet than any black person out the window has in a lifetime. I think Bob is just an old-fashioned cheapskate.

In the buffet queue at the last hotel in Serengeti, I overheard him grumbling to Melinda about Jackson's expectation of a tip, as politely suggested by the tour company. Haven't we paid enough for the safari, Bob asked. Isn't it the company's responsibility to pay their employees sufficiently? It's just a show of appreciation from us to him personally, countered Melinda, you know, for the extra effort he's put in. Oh, said Bob, and just what would that be? Slowing to fifty so we can catch a glimpse of a lion? Apparently, he went on, we should have stayed home and watched the Discovery Channel if we actually wanted to see the animals as anything other than a blur.

Melinda is slim and fit for her age—late sixtyish, and neatly attired in a khaki ensemble. I imagine her speedwalking around her neighborhood in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In her tanned and weathered hands she will hold little weights, and these she will swing vigorously to tone her upper arms.

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