Bertrand Traore flashed a sheepish grin at the stranger sitting across the table. He didn't know it, but his troubles had begun when the towering, aggressively talkative young man had fixed a baleful eye upon him ten minutes ago, shambling over to him and his friends to take up a seat across from the peeling, laminated table. Now, Bertrand was feigning attention between sips of cool water while the giant battered his way through the conversation.
Then a word caught his ear.
"You think you know about football? I used to be a big man in football around here." The stranger was even more animated, shaking his head and flashing his white teeth as his lone eye traced a lunatic path between Bertrand and his companions. "Until I got hurt."
Bertrand couldn't help himself. "You played?" He asked, barely suppressing a smile.
"I already said I did! Why are you questioning me! I know everyone in football around here. Ouagadougou FC! Centre forward, yeah? I was the biggest and the best. Even Alain Traore was nothing compared to me!"
A hush fell over the place.
"Alain is my..." At that point an elbow was driven sharply into his ribs, "...hero," he concluded, lamely.
"Alain Traore is nothing!" The giant roared, crumpling up a now-empty beer can with an enormous fist. "Nothing! It should have been be out there, making money in France."
"I think", said Issouf, reaching over to place a hand on Bertrand's shoulder, "That it is time to go."
The request did not have the intended effect. "Time to go? This!" The stranger cast around for a suitable word, eventually finding, "Idiot! Thinks Alain Traore is a good footballer. And he questions whether or not I played? He'll go after I've finished educating him. Yes, that's for the best."
"Actually," said Bertrand, "I think I'll go now, if that's ok with you."
The trio stood up to leave, pushing aside their plastic chairs, and although Issouf and Souleymane managed to escape into the African evening, Bertrand was restrained by a pair of hands clamping down upon him before he could cross the threshold. The stranger threw him bodily outside, following the teenager as he stumbled.
"And what if it isn't ok with me, boy?"
Bertrand was tall -- rangy even -- but although he had the frame of an athlete it had yet to properly fill out. And this man was truly huge. "Look, I didn't come here to make trouble, man. I'm sure you were a great player."
"Trouble found you anyway." The stranger grabbed Bertrand by the lapels, easily hoisting him into the air until they were face to face. "What are you going to do about it?"
Bertrand answered by jabbed a finger into the giant's lone eye. He howled with pain and dropped him into a heap on the ground, and by the time the stranger had recovered Bertrand was on his feet and getting ready to run. But, his pride attacked, the youngster felt the need to reply to the earlier insults.
"I'm Bertrand Traore, you idiot. Alain is my brother, and you have never been anybody." And with that, he sprinted down the street, neither stopping nor slowing down for breath until the familiar, distinctive shape of the Naba Koom poked out from behind the trees, pointing the way to his hotel.
His friends were waiting for him in their room, a fact which Bertrand was glad of since there was only one key, and he didn't have it.
"Bertrand! You're ok!" Issouf jumped up to greet him. "We were worried!"
Souleymane was less enthused. "I told you we shouldn't go in there. There are so many nice restaurants and bars in Ouagadougou. Why did we have to pick a dive? Especially one with a crazy person? You don't even drink!"
Bertrand knew he'd made a mistake but wasn't about to admit it. "How can you tell me it was my fault, man? You're the one who opened up the bag at Heathrow and lost my documents! That's why we're back here chasing down paperwork instead of in the Netherlands! I should be playing football, not dealing with this garbage."
"I don't even know what happened with your bag, Bertrand. I just wanted to look inside and suddenly papers were flying everywhere!"
While the duo argued, the stranger stumbled through the city before reaching his father's apartment. Upon locating the door, he pounded on it three times, rattling the metal hinges in the sturdy frame. "Father! FATHER!"
The portal opened before the fourth blow could land. "What is the meaning of all of this noise? Are you hurt? What's happened to your eye?" The man reached up, pulling his son's left hand away from his face, seeing a tear-soaked, blood-shot and extremely puffy eye staring back at him.
"Who did this to you, son? What happened?"
"Bertrand. Bertrand Traore." The man, an embassy official, considered his list of appointments for the next day. This 'Bertrand Traore' would regret, he thought, attacking his son in this way. He'd make sure of that.
To be continued.