|Lion Mountain Tetralogy
Lion Mountain Volume I.
"Approach to Freetown"
manuscript copyrighted December, 1983, and again in January, 2014
By Karan Henley Haugh
The sky was paralyzingly blue; the sun, incomparable to the pale sliver slipping through the clouds like a crescent moon
back in London. Strangely it seemed to throb, forming pools of gas over its broad surface, behind the wave of rising
heat. A mirage of fluidity it thus created around itself where there was nothing but dust.
While flying over the Sahara, she had asked him how the sun could change that way. He glanced up from the binder on
his knees. His spectacles had meanwhile slipped unnoticed to the tip of his nose. He pushed them back and spoke of
radiation, wavelengths, refractions, the effects of dust and other atmospheric conditions.
The way he looked at it, couldn't he feel the movement, the prickly waves creeping over the flesh? His explanation did
not help. Still she could not understand how that slip of sun over London that morning had become this bronze shield
over Guinea by late afternoon.
But it did not need explanation. Pressing her cheek against the glass, she could feel its warmth and could imagine that
magnified outside the cabin. How wonderful it had been to feel the sun draw the poison from her in Las Palmas. She
wondered what it might be able to do while lying on the beaches of Sierra Leone.
His hair and beard were coarse, scuffy. They and his dark glasses gave him the look of an intellectual; whereas, in his
conservative dress, he might be taken for a businessman, banker, or barrister. The night she had met him, his hair was
very blond. He looked in fact Nordic--tall, broad-shouldered, very much in command.
She remembered the one day on the mountainside in Greece it was actually golden. Bronze, dressed in only white swim
trunks and tennis shoes, his hair shining, he followed her as she scuttled like a goat up the mountainside. It was the first
time she had ever seen him that way—relaxed, uninhibited. Ahead were the monasteries of Mt. Athos, where for
centuries no female was allowed.
"Imagine that, Pete!" she called down. "Not even animals! What could they do to stop them—rabbits, mice, birds. Could
they keep female birds from nesting in their tree tops?" Racing up, she called that she would be the first female animal
to make it.
"Don't be mad!" he retorted. His mood changed suddenly. She stopped. Losing her footing, she began to slide down
with the loosening loam and pebbles. He said he would not go. And she did not—not without him.
His hair, after the sunless winter, had darkened considerably. Actually, it had the color of dung. But what would he say
if he could hear me think that, she thought. So meticulous, so very proper and civilized. Such an up-and-coming
success. Who knows? One day, maybe Parliament. She turned back again to look at the parched grasses of the savannas,
flaxen gold, the color that his hair had been on that cliff in northern Greece.
There they were again—two black and two white stewardesses, beginning to make their way down the aisles of the
aircraft. Like clockwork they appeared near the cabin, and after working their way back it seemed they were ready to start
all over again. "May I help you, sir? Madam? Would you care for a magazine? A cushion? Something to drink?" A hole
in the head?
Peter looked over the rim of his glasses, which had slipped to the tip of his nose again.
Damn those screws, damn! Why hadn't I noticed and gotten them fixed while still in London? He had noticed, he
recalled, but in the rush to make the flight, the problem had passed by unattended to.
Sometimes while working in the study if the screw came loose, he would only reach for the tiny screwdriver which he
kept for that express purpose. But she had taken the screwdriver. For what? She did not recall. Neither did she recall
where she had put it afterwards. The fact that she had done this annoyed him, but he would not show her. He simply
read his papers by holding his glasses up with his thumb.
Meanwhile she paced the floor in her bare feet. "It's cold, Lizzy! Put some slippers on." But she would not. Neither
would she stop. He ceased bothering to ask. Of course it was distracting. Didn't she want him to be prepared for the
conference? Didn't she want him to spend some time with her that first night in Freetown?
Dressed in a pair of jeans with paint smeared on them and an old, old t-shirt which clung as if wet to her breasts, she
continued to pace outside his study, mumbling something with a muffled "God!" thrown in every now and again. It was
as if she were looking for a fight. Some type of ritual. What? All that wild energy bundled up. Something to pierce it
and let it out. Where did it come from, and why did it come? He did not know. He would not oblige her what she
was looking for.
"Lizzie, go to bed, will you? I've got to read," he pleaded with her. She turned towards him. She looked like a stranger.
Tall, gaunt, hostile, she might have been one. "You don't care, do you!" she shouted. "My life is going down the drain.
Write your article, all of them. See if I care!"
If there were only a way to understand, something which could be done for her. It made no sense at all. As it ended, he
only closed the door, but still he could hear her. The place was charged with her weird, frantic energy. He could not
work. Taking off his glasses, he rubbed his forehead and put away his notes.
A map of the USSR in puzzle pieces rested on a large frame beside his desk. It had been worked only from the Crimea
up to Kursk. The northern reaches were grains of wood; the raised surface was lightly filmed with dust. He wondered
as he closed his briefcase when, if ever, he would find the occasion to finish it.
As he walked to the couch, she coolly looked up at him.
"Well,” he said, “Are you coming to bed? You know we'll have to be up early to leave at 7:00 A. M."
“Yes," she answered and continued reading.
As he lathered, he waited hopefully for her to come in the shower, for the warm water to melt her tensions. However
when he came out he found her in that same position.
Without a word, he walked down the hall, but shortly afterwards there was the plashing of water. Soon afterwards she
was beside him, smelling of talc and lavender.
"I'm sorry, love," she murmured as she first tested his disposition by brushing her hair lightly against his arm. He reached
for her and pulled her to him. "I don't know what's been the matter with me," she said in a soft voice.
"Don't worry, Lizzie," he said as he stroked her forehead and kissed her. "My, I'll have to get accustomed to this new
hair style of yours. My little lioness!" he chuckled and ran his hand through the stiff layers which rose sharply to his
touch. Turning, he put his other arm around her.
". . . The trip to Africa will do the both of us a world of good, I’m sure," he said, as he continued to kiss her. "Go to
sleep now and sleep well, all right?"
"Hhhhmmmm” she murmured and curled up beside him.
During the night he awoke as she cried out and lashed about in bed.
"Go to sleep, my love," he said softly. "It's all right. Everything will be all right."
At 6:00 A. M. the alarm rang. While he tried to get her out of bed, she kept wrapping herself in the blankets against the
wall. After opening the curtains and turning on the light, he put the radio on loudly. He was sure that she would find her
way to breakfast.
Walking down the hall, he saw the sun porch windows patterned with frost, the icicles hanging down in a row of clear
tusks. A few minutes after he began to fix breakfast, Elizabeth appeared at table, laying her head in the folds of her
brown robe. She only lifted her head to eat the breakfast he had set before her. He had trained her well, he thought, as
he watched her turning a small spoon in the yolk and butter of her egg.
The leisure of her life . . . it was a wholly different world from his. Journalism he had chosen as his profession; it was
the only one which offered him the diversity, the challenges he required. However, she was a cruel mistress — exacting,
demanding. To make it in the field was an endless ordeal, involving a tremendous output of energy, as much as an
athlete engaged in competition must expend. An athletics of the mind, following through the course of events, no matter
where or how they take you, searching through the facts to arrive at the most reasonable cause and effect of a situation.
You could never understand that, either, could you, Rhuba? He recalled that last week-end they had spent together at
the coast. Walking along through the woodlands, she was quiet, far more than ever he remembered her to be. Even
more so than when she was preparing her poems for publication the months before. Unusually quiet. Sitting on a white-
washed wall, watching the silvery laps of the sea, she was wearing one of her father's fisherman's sweaters and green
slacks. He remembered them because when she got up, the seat was chalked in white.
Sitting behind her, the breeze swelling up from the sea, blew her hair, her rich red hair against his face. How he had
loved that hair, the smell of it, the feel of it. The way she gazed at him that day, turning from the sea, looking at him, as
though she were somehow comparing him to it, turning and looking, her eyes very active, very cautious, somehow
weighing. It was strange. . .
The new flat after the divorce was dismal. The upholstery and curtains, a rodent brown; the rooms, bare. All of his
attention went into the study, lined with books, the walls covered with maps. There was that one of the Soviet Union in
puzzle pieces which he had been working on before she came. . .
. . . And in she came, with Aztec pillows and animal hides. Imitation Persians to take the place of the nondescript kind he
had scattered over the wooden floors. Copper pots teaming with exotic dried plants — the fragrant branches of
eucalyptus, large pods, chrysanthemums, peacock plumes. Then there were stretches of batiks he helped her tack up,
wooden sculptures from eastern Europe, mobiles of birds and butterflies done in delicate Japanese colors, and her
paintings as well.
At that time she had been doing vaguely cubistic things. These were what he had seen on display at the Institute
showroom. Soon afterwards followed a wave of soft, melting pastels. There were plants in different tonalities of light,
scenes of the nearby parks and the seacoast during their frequent visits, and of her cats at play or asleep on pillows in the
Persians--Muffy and Juba she called them. Artists always seemed to have their store of cats. Peter, however, was partial
to dogs, especially to the setters his father raised in Northampton. However, he had grown used to the cats, to the way
they licked each other's coats and chased each other down the hall.
With her arrival the flat was alive with color and movement. There was the thrill of arriving home and finding her in
some flimsy outfit painting in the sun porch. The windows open, the curtains blowing about her on the breeze. The
place crawling with plants, many in bloom, Debussy on the stereo and she would become the sea as her body followed
the motion of her arm over the canvas.
Just to watch her like that the moment or two before she became aware of him gave him the greatest pleasure.
"Oh, Peter!" she would cry out, rushing towards him with the brush in her hand and breaking into his arms like a wave.
Always there was a delicious meal awaiting him—quiches, lobster, Greek delicacies following their vacation in Greece,
curried dishes, French pastries, and those raw vegetables spotlessly washed with a rich, oriental sauce.
Then, in that surprising way, she began to change. Now it was he who made himself breakfast and sometimes the both of
them dinner, or more likely they went out.
At 7:00 A.M. when he got up, she was still asleep, and in the evenings she complained about being exhausted. Recently
she told him that she could not paint any longer, that having to supervise the students at the Institute had turned into
"one gigantic pain, a farce!"
She explained that she could have no direct connection with their artistic process since she had none with her own. It
was ironic, she said, that her position by its very nature presumed she always would.
A caged animal! That was how he could describe her. He could hear her high-pitched, hysterical voice at times.
Endlessly she complained about being cramped inside the flat during that unseasonably cold winter. The cats, snuggled
up against each other in the sun porch on the other hand, did not seem to notice the difference.
She has few responsibilities. Twice a week Mrs. Mac Farland comes to clean. I've become the chef, practically. All she
need concern herself with is the Institute and that, only part-time. What does she have to complain about, really? What
exactly does she want? Life with me is assuredly an improvement over where I found her, living with that Rhodes
character in that Southwark tenement.
Rhodes had been there the night he met her. Lanky, dark-haired, with a swarthy complexion, he might have been a sailor
off the dock. He remembered Rhodes leaning against a far wall of the Institute smoking a cigarette with a sense of
bravado. He clicked his fingers while he talked before going out. . .
". . . to drink," Elizabeth told him later, "An alley cat," she had called him, Peter remembered. He also remembered her
telling him how Rhodes had started disappearing at night, drinking, and hanging around in "dives". . .
"I think he's jealous because of my work, because of that exhibition. He's never had one. I don't know. My God, you'd
think he'd be pleased. But no. . . " she said, and her voice weakened at that point, he recalled, and her eyes, misty,
looked away. Much later he would hear the full story.
Touching his hand in a low, confessional tone, Elizabeth told him how sometimes Rhodes had come home early in the
morning, drunk, fought with her and beat her "... like my father...”
The motors whirled outside the window, providing a constant medium of noise. There was the endless distraction of the
stewardesses and now someone's loud talking. If only he had remembered to pick up earplugs. If only he could get this
reading done. He found himself looking over that dark rim again.
He stopped staring at the sheet in front of him and looked at Elizabeth still leaning up against the window. He, too,
looked out the window, but all there was to be seen was that endless, parched savanna. He thought of reaching out to
touch her, of running his hand up her gauze back into that bristly hair. She just seemed so absorbed that he did not wish
to disturb her. What would he say to her, anyway?
How different she was now from the time at Las Palmas. While the plane refueled, they took their lunch at an outdoor
café. They ate quietly. Peter noticed that she only ate only half of everything on her plate, despite his entreaties for her
to eat more, to get up her strength.
But afterwards, while sipping daiquiris, she began to laugh, stretching out her legs and tilting her head backwards. He
noticed how she wrinkled up her nose while laughing, something which she rarely did anymore, and how she half-
covered her smiles in a shy, girlish way.
Walking up the ramp, she laughed and kissed his cheek, even his hand, which she swung in hers.
It's the alcohol responsible for her gaiety. Otherwise, she wouldn't have been that way. She hasn't been like that for the
longest time. He almost wished the effects would not wear off, but they did as the plane continued over Dakar.
Now she was more herself, or rather, more like what she had been for the past few months. Quiet, but an uneasy kind of
The bristles of her hair rested motionless against her blouse. She had had her hair close-cropped a few days back. He
had not been told about this beforehand, and he did not like it.
If only she had mentioned it, I would have tried to persuade her not to have it done. Almost a yard of that luscious hair
lost! It's all wrong for her looks, besides. It makes her face look much too narrow, drawn.
The way she wore it on the night they met--long and smooth to her waist--that was the way he liked it. Over her pale
face and bright green eyes it drifted when she turned her head sideways, ran her hand through it and smiled. He had
watched her doing that for the longest time before he left his friend who had brought him to the showing. Then when he
approached her and talked with her, she did the same for him. As she leaned a bit sideways, she covered her lips with
her hand and smiled.
Her gestures had a certain suppliance. They made him want to hold and reassure her right there that everything would
be all right. Even that first night. How soft she looked. How fair her skin. An innocent kind of radiance surrounded
her. What a treasure she would be if he could only salvage her.
Long--that was the way he preferred it. But recently she had begun to complain that its being long demanded far too
much care, that it was constantly getting in her way. Grabbing a handful of it, she would impatiently throw it over her
shoulder. If she pinned it up, she complained, it would start to tumble down right in the most important part of a
composition, and she would lose her concentration. Anything, anymore, seemed to cause her to lose her concen-tration,
and she would drift away.
For weeks she had been more or less this way--brooding, moody, and silent. A few days back when the weather had let
up somewhat, they took a walk through Kensington Gardens. As he talked about the trip, he noticed from time to time
that she seemed unaware of him. Her eyes would stray, making their way towards a belfry or a turret or a starling gliding
from one rooftop or leafless tree to another.
"Lizzie, what are you thinking, might I ask?" he might ask. And without a doubt, she would turn towards him and answer
with a forced grin something like, "I wonder what the sky would look like if it were violet." Yet he would know that that
was not it at all.
There she was again. The same stewardess whom he had seen a hundred times stood over him. "Sir, would you care for
anything? Something to drink, perhaps?" Then he felt the dryness of his throat.
"Lizzie," he said, turning towards the window, "would you care for something to drink?"
"Yes," she said, "I am thirsty. "Maybe some ginger ale " she said, running her hands through her hair to straighten it.
There was no need for that since it all fell smoothly around the central part.
"Ginger ale and scotch and soda," he told the stewardess who then went on to the next row of seats with her questions.
“This scenery sure does have a drying effect on me!" Elizabeth said to him.
"You seem to be taking it all in," Peter said, jutting out his chin and nodding slightly.
"Yes," she said and wound up her eyes. "There's something very pure and strong about it. Do you notice the color of
the air?" He looked out the window and nodded.
"You're wrong!" she said excitedly. "There is no color. Only an intense brightness — that surpasses color."
"That's a lot from you all at once. You've been quiet a long time," he said as though this were a question, requiring a
"Yes. . . just thinking."
"May I inquire about what?"
"Sure," she said with her American candor. Again she drew her hand through her short mane. "It takes some getting used
to, doesn't it?"
"It certainly does after wearing it nearly waist-long for two years."
"Two years and longer. . . " she said reflectively, then dropped it.
"Is that what you were thinking about?" he asked again. He was used to her sidetracking issues. The only way to deal
with her at such times was to corner her and look her squarely in the eyes.
"No," she replied hedgingly, "about my grandmother leaving Europe as a young girl. I wonder if she felt anything like I
did leaving London this morning."
“Huh? How do you mean?" He asked, beginning to pick at his beard. There was a tiny spot where he had pulled out
several hairs. "You're not going to live in Sierra Leone, only visit for two weeks. How do you make the connection?"
"Yes, of course," Elizabeth laughed lightly. "How silly of me to think that!" She smiled again but turned back to look
out the window.
If that's the way he’s going to be, she told herself, he certainly won't want to hear about the dream last night. . . how
very strange, vivid. . . Grandma boarding the ship in Hamburg, having to walk to Ellis Island in water up to her waist.
But instead of coming to America, she was walking through the turquoise water onto the shore of Sierra Leone. . .
Again no communication. Words exchanged, but no communication. Peter wondered how he might interest her, but the
stewardess returned with their drinks. "Would you care for anything else, sir?" Her bright cheeks and dark eyes gleamed
in her dark face.
No, the only thing I care for is not to be disturbed any longer. And that baby crying again! "No, nothing more, thank
you," he told her after Elizabeth shook her head and began to sip her ginger ale.
Ahead a few seats sat a black couple. All of the man he could see was his frizzled head beneath a tasseled box hat. His
wife, wearing a red satin dress, held a crying baby against her bosom. She rocked it, singing softly in their native tongue.
The song was quite melodic. It swelled up suddenly then ended with a kiss. The baby quit crying, blinked and fell
asleep while the woman continued humming.
"Doesn't that lullaby sound lovely, Pete?"
"So long as it works!" Pete said gruffly, even surprised at himself. He finished his drink and pushed back his glasses. He
tried to let the music relax him, but his nerves were too jittery. The melody could not soothe him. Again he found
himself staring at his folder and felt a headache growing.
It was nearly 4:00 P. M. If they had kept to schedule, as it appeared they had, they should be landing soon. As he set his
briefcase on the floor, Elizabeth looked at him.
"We should be landing soon." He mentioned.
Not long afterwards, the pilot's voice announced the upcoming arrival at Lungi Airport.
"Are you psychic?" Elizabeth asked.
"No, it's only following schedules," Peter said, rubbing his head. I wish I were psychic, though, he told himself,
concerning you. He looked again at her watching out the window.
"Those are Bolilands," he told her.
"What you're looking at, the Temne, the natives of this region, call them the Bolilands. That's the part of the savannas
which undergoes drastic changes from season to season. If, for instance, we were to fly by in July, we would see the
grasslands flooded with rain. It would rain nearly every day for a large portion of the day. The land would be covered
with dense underbrush. While in January, you see it as it is before you."
"A bit dry, no?"
"Say, Lizzie," Peter said as he stopped pulling at the hairs in his beard and leaned towards her, "what do you see when
you look at it the way you do?"
“Well, . . . you know. . . it looks a lot like the corn fields I flew over on my way to Boston." She spoke slowly, but Peter
could tell that for the first time she spoke with interest. "There's little in the way of detail," she added, "but there is a
certain light. . . color. . . no, light. . . " She returned to the window. "I'm not sure yet . "
A moment later she called out, "Look, Peter!" She took his arm and drew him nearer. "The land is getting green!"
"Yes, love. Those are the mangrove swamps which run along the bay."
"But why is it not dried out like the rest of the land?"
"The reason for that is that those trees are in the swamp lands into which the entire river system drains.
“ . Say," he said more excitedly, "do you see that huge bay down there?” She nodded. “It's nothing more than the mouth
of the river that filled with silt. And there, that's Lion Mountain coming up there," he said, pointing to a densely
covered ridge of mountains. For some reason the plane had circled southeastward, coming into the interior rather than
pulling in directly at Lungi near the coast.
"Yes, but I've told you about that before, haven't I?"
Elizabeth shook her head. Her short mane brushed the air. Peter was sure he had. "Well, 'Sierra Leone is a corruption
of the original Portuguese term for 'Lion Mountain.' A Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cinta passing there around the time
of Columbus, actually in 1460 to be precise, saw that group of mountains and named it that. Eventually, the country took
that for its name.”
"Are there still lions?" she asked him. The low-lying mountains were covered with a dense canopy of forest. Perhaps it
seemed that they could still house lions.
"No, no," Peter said, rubbing his temples. "Most likely there never were any. I mean at least not in the time the land
was a colony or protectorate. If I remember correctly, the name was given it because the sound the thunder made over
those hills resembled the roar of lions."
He leaned forward. "You see, when the monsoon winds meet up with the harmatta during the month of May, there is a
fierce disturbance at the start of the rainy season. . . "
"Oh," Elizabeth asked faintly, "what's the harmatta?"
Peter rubbed his head.
"Is something the matter, Pete? Are you feeling all right?"
"Yes," he said, attempting to smile. "Just a mild headache. I imagine from trying to read on the plane."
"You mean you might have done it last night, don't you? I'm sorry about that. I already said that several times."
"Yes, I know." He took her hands in his. "Most likely I would not have been able to finish it in any case. It doesn't
matter, not at all. All right?"
He leaned towards her and brushed his lips against her hair. "The harmatta is the wind blowing south from the Sahara.
Strangely, its effects are cooling over Sierra Leone. The red dust which accompanies it is the ferraric soil picked up from
the land's surface. Do you remember that reddish glow you saw at times over the Bolilands?"
"Yes," Elizabeth said softly, remembering the previous night. That,” Peter continued, “was the red dust carried by the
harmatta. It's lovely to look at from several thousand feet. And the effects it creates are spectacular, especially those at
dawn and dusk when the sun rises and lowers into it. It is, in part, responsible for some of those visual effects which
you noticed a while ago. But wait until about 6:00 P. M. when the sun sets, and you'll see what I mean.
"However," Peter added, "the harmatta blowing nearly all day and all night, with that red dust, does give bodies, houses,
almost everything it touches the effect of having been rusted." Peter laughed.
"You'll find, staying out in it a while, that a shower is a blessing."
"Look," Elizabeth said, dropping his hand. "There's the city." It stood a long, lean rectangle between mountain range and
sea. "Isn't it beautiful?" She turned towards him as if inviting him to share in her pleasure. "It might be Greece, but it's
Africa. Incredible! Those same colors though. That city of perfectly white buildings and a turquoise sea."
"Yes, love." He remembered a time that had been far happier than the last few months. But perhaps in this sunnier
climate the needed changes would take place, he thought. Maybe it was a good sign, this reaction of hers. Perhaps Lion
Mountain might be the answer after all.
"I've never been in a jungle before!" Elizabeth called out excitedly. It was not what one would call a jungle, he thought,
but if it makes her happy. . .
Below, the airstrip of Lungi widened as the plane dove towards it. The terminal building -- spread-out, low-lying,
fringed in palms--grew larger as they drew near.
|This is the story of the American artist Elizabeth Modra who tries to find a new
life in the West African country of Sierra Leone. The work consists of the
following volumes (from left to right); "Approach to Freetown," "Departure
from Bonthe," "Incident in Bo," and "Home in Hill Station." All the following
are presently available on Amazon Kindle.