We were hot and sticky from carrying our luggage across town in the stifling humidity, but when we walked in the front door of our house, the cool of the brick walls and floor tiles was like a cold-water plunge. We staked out the bedrooms we wanted, the boys in one and the girls in another, and I suddenly felt less shy with the boys. Moving from bare acquaintance to living together in the brief span of three days had transformed them into something more akin to brothers. The sexual edginess I’d felt around them softened into comradeship.
The large eat-in kitchen was equipped with utensils, a stove, deep sink, and table. The uneven, well-worn tile floor and the dozens of pots and pans stored in the cupboards suggested that some family had eaten heartily from this kitchen. But rather than cooking, Mr. Claire had suggested we order in our meals from the pensão around the corner.
“One of the young boys here at the mission can bring the food over for you.” For the noon meal that day, he carried in caldo verde [potato kale soup], batatas fritas [fried potatoes], and bifes [beef steaks]. He stacked one pot after another on our counter.
“Oh my gosh, look at all this food. How will we eat it all?” we all exclaimed, peering into the pots. “And did he say it only cost twenty escudos?” That translated to eighty cents. For supper he brought potatoes, cod, and cabbage, with boiled potatoes left over to turn into hash browns at breakfast the next morning. Breakfast wasn’t available from the pensão, so we bought milk, eggs, and bread and planned to supplement them with leftovers.
That evening we relaxed in the living room, with a luxuriously competent feeling.
“We found a free place to stay, thanks to Mr. Claire, and cheap food,” I said. “Now all we have to figure out is how to pay for the train.”
“Let’s get out all our money so we can see what we have,” said Kathy. We emptied our wallets and purses onto the coffee table.
“Hey, look! I forgot we had this.” Kathy pulled out the fifty dollars Mom had given us to buy clothes in the Salisbury department stores. I looked longingly at that bill, imagining the shoes, blouses, and skirts it would purchase. For a moment I thought about snatching it back, hoarding it for Kathy’s and my pleasure. I hankered for a pair of heels for church and dressy parties and some nylon stockings, nylons to make my legs sleek. But when I looked around at our group, I knew I was dreaming. Of course, the money would have to be used for getting us back to school. I rather loved the drama of sacrificing for the group.
“Even with the fifty dollars,” Kathy figured, “we’re still going to need a conto [about forty dollars] for train tickets. Maybe we can borrow that from Mr. Claire.”
This detour in Lourenço Marques reminded me of the Famous Five mystery adventures I used to read when I was a kid. Five Run Away Together, Five Get into Trouble, Five Go Adventuring… Barbara, Melvin, Jerry, Kathy, and I had landed in the middle of our own mystery, the mystery of life really. While we sorted out the problems of room, board, and travel, we were learning about each other, especially how boys and girls interacted. I had wanted to rely on Melvin to figure out how to solve our predicament, just as Julian in the Famous Five took the lead. But I realized I had a whole lot more sense than Melvin did. Even Barbara, who was younger than Melvin and me, took charge of guiding us around while the boys acted like useless appendages. It made me wonder again what Mrs. Glegg was sheltering us from and why the boys at A.M.F. were allowed so many more freedoms than the girls.
Since the train didn’t depart until 6:30 in the evening on Wednesday, we had another two days to spend in Lourenço Marques.