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Short Stories (Safari Tales)

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alias author Jan Hawke

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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Short Stories (Safari Tales)
    Posted: 08 Oct 2009 at 5:00pm
 
For reviewing only please (1st phase editing/proofing done by Saranna)
 
These are the PG 13 stories of a collection I will one day get around to touting for a publisher (so probably not this year at the rate RL is going atm Wacko). Thus far there are only 2 of these, but they will be added to - the rest will have to go into my FreeWorlds house but I'll put live links to those on here as I put them up so those who can, can read them as well
 

 
Watching
 
 
Sophie’s Diary: Friday 28th April ~ Kafue, Zambia

Hot and humid during the day out here by the confluence of the Kafue and Lufupa rivers, but so beautiful. It reminds me of Vutare a little, down by the garage - the view across the river anyway. There are mostly Twa(1) living around here and some working in the camp as well, though most of the guides and drivers are from the south and look to be from more mainstream farming communities - the fishing here is pretty good, some yummy perch last night for dinner. Thankfully we're in rondavels on the hill so we get the breeze off the river at night and they do night drives as well. Saw some aardvarks last night which was interesting as I'd never seen them before. Porcupines too and a darling little civet cat. They have leopards here too and we've been told we're almost bound to see at least one while we're here. Can't wait for that - they're my favourite big cat...

 

The salt blood from the kill had given her a raging thirst. Although the impala ram was barely adolescent, it had put up more of a struggle than she had bargained for and the early afternoon heat was not a good time for a full-blown wrestling match. She had to slake her dusty throat before she started the tiring business of dragging her prize to safety. The river was close by, so the chances that her food could be stolen away were low, as the pride and the hated pack would still be farther back in the bush, dozing in the shade whilst the sun was high.

She lithely climbed the bank once more, her aching jowls now cool and dripping, froze, and then flattened herself slowly into the long dry grass. Several tall-apes, chattering and making uncouth hyena coughs around one of their enormous smelly zebra-striped beasts had appeared on the edge of the glade where her hard won meal lay. It was not unusual to see the tall animals inside the belly of their strange huge roaring beasts that always seemed to be close by these curious almost hairless creatures. However, the sight of them walking around their monstrous creature in her river range was disturbing, even though she knew she had little to fear from them. She could see that they had not spotted her kill and knew no other predator would approach whilst they were making such a racket. Crouching low on the crest of the bank, secure in the knowledge that they could not see her through the long grass, she settled down to watch and wait patiently until they left.

The strange apes were much taller than their crooked-tailed baboon cousins who lived in the rocky country to the east of her territory. They always moved around on their hind legs; a lurching, ungainly gait when compared to her own graceful athlete’s stride. Their garish coats, all differently coloured or marked, were even more outlandish and offered poor camouflage, which was surely dangerous for such a seemingly defenceless animal. However, she knew better than most of her kind that the tall-apes were not weaponless and, using their stinking striped monsters, could easily outrun a zebra or even a cheetah over distance. She would not confront these raucous, arrogant creatures, especially a whole troop of them, unless her own life or those of her cubs were in gravest jeopardy.

At last, with a rumbling fart and a cloud of dark smoke, the tall-apes’ malodorous beast began to make its usual monotonous roaring sound. The apes all gave loud barks and coughs of triumph and climbed back into the belly of the monster. She knew they would soon leave, so she glided slowly away from them, keeping downwind and below the edge of the bank, intending to circle back to her impala as soon as they moved off.

As she left one of the older males got out again to retrieve a tool he had dropped whilst working on the engine. As he climbed back into the minibus cab he glanced back at the river and caught a flick of her pale tail fur and its distinctive dark tip as she slunk behind a stand of dusty acacia. From his higher vantage point, his sharp tracker’s eyes also took in the flattened area and the lifeless twist of impala horns not far from the bank where she had struggled to bring down the ram. He knew she would be back for her fallen prey as soon as they left. They would return to this area later, as his safari clients would be impressed to see leopard on a kill.

Once she was satisfied that the tall-apes had left the glade, she took a firm grasp of the ram’s neck with her powerful jaws and began the arduous task of getting the carcass into deep cover. Luckily she was dragging the kill into wind and was able to hide it in a tangled mass of fallen thorn browse not far from the clearing and close to where she had left her two cubs earlier that morning. Hungry from her exertions she tore hair from the rump with her rough tongue and took a few ravenous mouthfuls of prime meat before she went to fetch her sons.

They greeted her with delight, licking the drying blood and flecks of meat from her mouth and neck and squirmed with pleasure as she in turn rubbed her face over their chubby little bodies. Then, with an upward flick and sway of her long black tipped tail, she turned back on her tracks and began to lead them to the still new and delicious experience of a meal of fresh meat.

When they arrived at the hidden stash, still free from the recent spoor of rival carnivores, she efficiently proceeded to eviscerate the ram and pull out the juicy nourishing vitals that her young would find easy to digest. They tumbled energetically nearby, inflicting inexperienced but nonetheless sharp nips and ripping blows, learning how defend themselves, whilst looking for the chance to make a decisive strike. One day their exuberant games would allow them to hunt and kill as proficiently as their mother. A soft growl from her quickly drew them back to the serious business of mealtime and the portion of delectable soft warm liver that she had saved for them. Only half-weaned, the cubs could not eat much meat, so she was able enjoy her own meal without having to keep order over who got what tasty morsel.

Eventually, sated by the rich food, the cubs began to nuzzle into her soft belly seeking milk, warmth and sleep, leaving her free to lie deep in the shade, stripping hair from a haunch she had detached, savouring the tender flesh. She was starting to feel drowsy herself when once more the low rumbling roar of the tall-apes’ beast was heard in the distance. Realising it was getting closer she shook her cubs away and started to pull the ram further into the protective depths of the fallen brush. Calling urgently to her young she retrieved the leg and they all crawled under the shelter of the dense thorn of the branches as far in as they could go. She hoped it would be deep enough to shield them from the tall-apes notice.

The minibus driver-guide had found their feasting place with relative ease by returning to the killing ground and following the drag marks and bloody traces to the leopard’s stash site. After his first glimpse of the leopard, he’d taken his clients a little further into the bush to view eland and giraffe and follow a family of elephants before starting back to where he’d seen the leopard and her kill and radioing his firm’s co-drivers to direct them to the area. This gave him a little more time to track her and get to the stash first and bag the best vantage point for his guests – this would almost certainly be the highlight of their safari and earn him a nice big tip. He settled back in his seat with the engine off, happily enveloped in the lucrative sounds of whirring motor drives and the fat clicking of expensive cameras, waiting for the inevitable questions about the leopard. This was an excellent end to his day as he happened to know a great deal about this particular animal and knew his guests would be enthralled by her history.

The leopard’s opinion of this turn of events was very different. However, she realised they had no alternative but to stay put – at least they had food close by and the sun was now low in the sky so the tall-apes would leave before it had sunk below the trees to get back to their lair in the twilight. She hardly bothered to look at the monster as she knew it could not get closer and turned her attention to cleaning her sons’ grubby faces with her rasping tongue and then tearing more skin from the haunch.

The barrage of noise from the tall-apes and the strange black and silver pebbles that they held to their heads as she performed these seemingly mundane domestic tasks did not really bother her until her elder son started to get interested in the racket. She quickly gave him a warning cough but he’d already fled back to the protective curve of her downy belly as his few hesitant steps towards the striped beast had provoked even more noise and mad flapping of arms. She snarled her displeasure at the impertinent apes then pulled herself up and around the cubs and the food, putting her body in front of them so only her back faced the unwelcome gaze of the apes. Giving a last low growl of irritation she lay down again, glaring over her shoulder occasionally, but remaining otherwise unmoved by the arrival of a second and then a third and fourth monster.

After twenty minutes or so the guide decided that they ought to make room for other minibuses, as word had obviously been passed around the lodge’s clientele and he could hear several more vehicles coming over. He hoped that his colleagues would soon follow him back to their evening base but knew that the leopard family would attract even more attention before the afternoon was done. The little clearing now looked like a small parking lot with around eight minibuses greedily clustered as near to the leopard’s refuge as they could get and at least ten more circling the area waiting for their turn to get close. He felt a small twist of guilt for the cubs, wondering whether this unwelcome intrusion would stress them, but that was the safari business these days – the clients craved the Big Five and if they saw a kill and cubs then everyone was happy. Consoling himself with the knowledge that his guests were ecstatic at being the first to get their unhurried photographic trophies of this heaven sent opportunity, he blessed the dirty sparkplug that had caused their breakdown by the river, not five minutes out from the lodge. He’d be the envy of the other drivers tonight and, best of all, have the fattest wallet at the end of the week.

 

Dusk:  first of nearly thirty entries in the Kifaru River Lodge game log

Spotted upriver from the Lodge - Female leopard (Lyssa) and 2 cubs. Lyssa, (the orphaned leopard raised by the famous wildlife author and conservationist Joanne Eveman) has not been seen at the night bait tree for several weeks, so her absence has now been explained. Both cubs appear to be male, around eight weeks old and were nursing and taking solids.

 
 
[1]Twa ~ one of the more ancient tribes of central Africa who ranged east and south into Zambia. They tend to live in wetlands and trade with the more numerous Bantu farming tribes.
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote DrWho7Freak Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Oct 2009 at 11:50pm
Read that out loud and so glad I did as the story was wonderful and v. clever writing from the viewpoint of a leopard... you do wonder what they think when us bi-peds turn up in the monsters - they, of course, would see it as an invasion of territory and a possible detriment to their cubs if they have them.
 
Going off to read your other one now!
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Oct 2009 at 1:44pm
This is actually a true story and I was in the broken down minibus LOL It doesn't sound the same from the tourist/guide standpoint so I decided to do a Richard Adams which does make it more interesting to read. We were in the Samburu National Park which is a red desert area close to Kenya's border with Somalia and has several rare varieties of ostrich (blue necks!) Grevy's zebra and reticulated giraffe.
 
Joy Adamson lived there for a time and she did raise a female leopard that, like Elsa the Lion, was released back into the wild close by a lodge that had a 'bait tree' just outside the dining room - across the river though because the leopard might have fancied some post prandial fare... We saw a male leopard on the bait tree the previous evening - I like to think he was the father of the cubs we saw Smile
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Oct 2009 at 11:40pm
The second of the family-friendly stories in the collection so far. This is more a folksy story along the lines of Aesop's Fables or the Brer Rabbit tales, if a little more PC maybe to make it more of an African morality tale: set back in 'olden times' when things were simpler and more innocent and told to children of all ages around a campfire perhaps... Or if you need it to be more sophisticated, a mythopeic exploration of a cautionary tale - that has some credence in zoological terms. Wink
 

Onwards and upwards…


Sophie’s Diary: Saturday 29th April ~ Kafue, Zambia

We had a truly glorious day today, driving around the Kopjes and looking at some really splendid Baobabs down by a little creek. Tons of Marabous, herons and cranes in the water meadows as well, on the hunt for frogs and snakes. Poor Eva’s face when she got a good look at the storks through the bins

“Oh-my-God! I never knew they were so ugly! Ugh! Phil – you gotta dump all my boas as soon as we get back to Santa Monica!”

So funny! I didn’t dare look at Adam who was nearly choking on his cola. He was brilliant today as well. Kept them all enthralled – well me too actually – with his patter and anecdotes.

When we were driving back through the bush, Adam slowed right down when he realised we were close to a Dik Dik midden – he’d been talking to the camp guides in the staff bouma last night and they’d told him where to find one. Anyway he found it and went off road a little and there the stinky little heap was. Of course everyone was not too impressed until one of the dear little antelopes dutifully showed up and obligingly performed for us. The cameramen were beside themselves, and the motor drives were being caned like mad as the titchy little thing scaled what for him was this two storey bathroom.

Adam had turned the engine off so we sat there spellbound for about a half hour, just watching this darling little creature, only about the size of a small spaniel but so, so slender and delicate. And then Adam began to talk very quietly, telling us the apocryphal tale of the Dik Dik and the Rhino…


In the beginning of times all animals were friends with each other, but of course they all had to eat and so the plant eaters and the meat eaters soon drifted apart and took different paths. Now it is well-known that some plant-eaters like gemsbok, zebra, gnu, kudu and giraffe will come together when they drink, or even graze or browse together, but then this is easily seen for they are all large creatures and favour the more open lands. But not all large browsers like to be in the open and the Black Rhino is one of those who prefer to browse more privately and in peace in the brush and woodlands. And so, still long ago, it came to be that the great powerful Rhino befriended one of the smallest browsers of all – the quiet and tiny Dik Dik.

Now you may think this is very strange my dears, that such a great clumsy creature like a Rhino would be good friends with such a shy little antelope, but there are very good reasons for this. Most important is that the poor old Rhino does not see too well, but the Dik Dik has very sharp little eyes as well as good hearing, so he could tell the Rhino whenever a big cat or hunting dogs were about and his friend would not be taken by surprise. And of course the Rhino, being so big and strong, need not fear any predator once they are grown, so together the two animals found that they were as often as not left to browse in peace by the meat-eaters.

Rhino became very fond indeed of his little friend, for Dik Dik was neat and clean in his habits as well as being very gentle and quiet, so the small and the great browsers spent a lot of time together wandering the woodlands, eating and sleeping and drinking close by each other. After a while however, Rhino began to get a little curious about his little friend’s habits for he never saw the Dik Dik drop his spoor save in the one spot, which, incidentally, was one of the Rhino’s favourite places too – except he of course, ranging a little farther afield than his friend, had many places where he liked to drop spoor. Now this peculiar habit of Dik Dik’s began to dwell on his friend’s mind and one day Rhino just had to know why the antelope was so precise and particular over something most others would not think twice about.
“Tell me little brother Dik Dik - how is it that you only have one midden? Forgive me for asking such an impertinent question of you, but I have been puzzled about this for some time…” Rhino, for all his clumsy appearance and ways was a sensitive animal as you can tell and so he was a little embarrassed to be delving into his friend’s personal areas. “Why is it that you will only ever drop your spoor in the one place? I think you must be the only one in the whole forest who does such a thing!”

Dik Dik looked a little surprised to be asked such a question, but he was a sweet-tempered sort and he could see why his friend should be curious, for it was indeed an unusual habit.
“Well my good friend,” Dik Dik looked up at Rhino a little shyly, “we are not always together, but when I am with you, I am always safe from the meat-eaters. Have you ever noticed how predators choose the places to ambush our kind very carefully?” 
“Not really, but then they leave me alone pretty much of course.” Rhino chomped on his browse thoughtfully.
“Well they do! They choose very carefully!” Dik Dik shook his beautiful little head sadly. “Anywhere they know you might have your mind on other things, or are doing something where you may not be able to run away so quickly… like when you are drinking… or when you drop spoor. And if they can smell your spoor then they can track you too.”
“But why just the one place then my friend? Surely that means they always know where to find you?”
Dik Dik smiled ruefully at the great creature. “Well yes they do, but they also know that you are often with me in that place, for you use it too and they can smell your spoor as well! And so you see, they know that if you are there too, they would be foolish indeed to try and come after me, your best friend, for you would surely trample them with your great hooves, or gore them with your sharp nose horn if they tried to eat me!

Rhino thought about this for a few moments, he was not the quickest of animals, but he was a very wise one and so he began to laugh at his little brother’s cleverness.
“O Dik Dik! You are indeed a sly one!” Rhino huffed and puffed in merriment for a good while and then looked kindly at Dik Dik, “Well I shall certainly continue to drop my spoor beside yours in that place, for I would be sad indeed to lose you my dear friend.” And he did. Every time they visited Dik Dik’s one and only midden he always made sure to drop some spoor as well.

Now in this early time the Dik Dik did not try to build great towers of spoor as they do now, but just spread it around the area a little like most animals do, to let the dung beetles do their work easily. And for a little time after their conversation Dik Dik carried on in that way. However, Rhino had been thinking very hard about what Dik Dik had said and wanted to be of even more help to his charming friend, for he did not wish for him ever to be taken by a predator, so in the days that followed Rhino was as good as his word and made sure to drop his own spoor as close to Dik Dik’s as possible.

The little antelope was very glad he had told his friend of his little ruse, but as time went on he got a little concerned about Rhino’s new habit of dropping spoor right beside his own. Now you may of course guess the reason for Dik Dik’s worry, but if you cannot I must tell you that one day the inevitable happened. They came into the glade where Dik Dik kept his midden and this time Rhino got far too close to Dik Dik just as he was dropping his own dainty little spoor – and splattered his poor friend with his own large, hot, steaming droppings… To be fair to Rhino, he did not mean for this to happen, but then, to make matters worse, as Dik Dik tried to flee his friend’s droppings by dashing away under Rhino’s big belly, Rhino then began to urinate too and the unfortunate Dik Dik had another, more liquid, dowsing.

Once poor Rhino realised what had happened, he apologised profusely again and again, mortified that he had gotten his dear friend so dirty. Dik Dik was naturally not at all happy, but he knew Rhino was truly sorry and had not meant to humiliate him, so he forgave him.
“Well, well… accidents will happen I suppose. You had better come back with me to the waterhole so I can bathe and get clean again though! Just see that you are more careful the next time please!”

And this is what happened of course, although it has to be said that Rhino, being half blind and a more than a little clumsy, had several more near misses, but Dik Dik, having been befouled the once was not about to let it happen again any time soon. So, every time the two friends went to their joint midden, Dik Dik kept a very careful watch on Rhino’s behind and thus avoided any further embarrassing incidents, although there were a few more close calls. However, as time went on and the incident was fading a little, one day Dik Dik was not as watchful as he generally was and lo, the same thing happened again. And once more Rhino was very apologetic and Dik Dik was as understanding as he could be, although he was very cross and slightly annoyed with himself, as well as Rhino, for forgetting to be vigilant.

Now as you know, Dik Dik was a very clever chap and so he began to think hard about how they could prevent this happening for a third time and I can tell you that it did not take too long for him to come up with a solution. The very next day when they visited their midden, Dik Dik chose a good spot, not too sunny, fairly shady but not overgrown so much that Rhino could not use the place as well, and then did his business as usual. Then every time after that, when they were at the midden Dik Dik always dropped his spoor in exactly the same spot as before and this went on for several days. Well of course Dik Dik soon had quite a pile of droppings growing there and Rhino began to notice this of course and wondered what his little friend was up to now. However he was still very ashamed of himself for twice making his friend dirty so he said nothing. After several weeks of this however, as the pile of Dik Dik droppings grew and grew, higher and higher, Rhino’s curiosity was more than he could stand and the next time they went to the glade to drop spoor, he finally asked his friend what he was doing. Dik Dik smiled and then looked his big friend in the eye, for they were now at the same level as the little creature perched on top of his great pile of spoor, hardly able to speak for laughing.
“Well my dear friend. It is quite simple. This way you cannot ever make me dirty again can you, for on top of this tower I am too high am I not?!” Rhino laughed and laughed with his friend.
“Ah Dik Dik! You are a clever fellow and I would never have thought of that myself.”
“No indeed!” the little antelope chuckled, but nevertheless gave his friend a penetrating glance. “But just you be careful my friend, for accidents can happen. And maybe one day my midden will be high enough for me to make you dirty! So just watch you do not get too close to me when you drop your spoor in future please!”

And so, to this day the Dik Dik and the Rhino are still the best of friends, but they are also very careful not to make the other dirty when they make their droppings in the same spot.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote DrWho7Freak Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Oct 2009 at 1:03pm

Very funny ... It started out Jungle Bookish - ended up like a Walt Disney film trying to be cool ... you must have been laughing when you wrote this!

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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Oct 2009 at 2:47pm
Smile As you now know I need the light relief with these stories so it offsets the doom and gloom in the 'grown-up' ones LOL
One safari holiday we had one of the owner-partners was travelling with us and she'd brought a load of Disney videos with her for the guides and camp employees who were all Zambian - they loved them and the reason was hilarious. There were lots of lovely gazelles and antelopes in the area and the bush bucks have gingery-red coats with white spots and when the guests saw them they very often said "Awww! Bambi" - so inevitably they asked what Bambi was so she'd got them a copy and they loved it! So she started bringing them a Disney film everytime she went out there. Their favourites were Bambi and Song of the South (Uncle Remus/Brer Rabbit) - I heard one of the gardeners whistling Zip-i-dee-doo-dah a few times as well! LOL 
 
Ironic that it's regarded as shamingly un-PC these days because they really did love the film.
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  Quote Saranna Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Oct 2009 at 4:21pm
Thumbs Up
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  Quote Sivan Ilius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Feb 2010 at 4:04am
Loved Watching! It's especially good when you read it while juggling five other things so that it takes a little longer for you to piece it together. Then it hits you in the face and it becomes, all in all, a very ironic piece! The only thing about that confused me though was the last italicized paragraph. " Lyssa, (the orphaned leopard raised by the famous wildlife author and conservationist Joanne Eveman) has not been seen at the night bait tree for several weeks, so her absence has now been explained." I'm assuming Lyssa is the she-leopard whose viewpoint we were exploring earlier, right? And by "her absence...explained" do you mean because the humans were around she retreated into hiding for awhile?

Don't need to say much about Onwards and Upwards. It speaks for itself. It's funny and reads just like African folklore. Loved it.
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Feb 2010 at 1:05pm
LOL OK - it needs to be read in context with this
 
Spotted upriver from the Lodge - Female leopard (Lyssa) and 2 cubs.
 
and this -
 
Both cubs appear to be male, around eight weeks old and were nursing and taking solids Wink
 
Leopard females, like most wild cats (except lions), bring up their young away from the males and other dangers and so she would have been avoiding the lodge, even though it was a reliable source of food for her whilst her cubs were v. little. That would be because of the human activity centred there and the need to keep her cubs hidden where she could best protect them - so nowhere near a large commercial settlement. At the point we saw them they'd past the stage where they were entirely dependant on mum's milk, so she was needing to hunt  more and for bigger prey to feed them all. Though not mentioned in the story, a male leopard (possibly the cubs' father), was also in the territory and so Lyssa was not taking any chances and kept the cubs right away from the lodge, not just because of the 'tall-ape' presence, but also because she would have had to challenge the male for the bait, which was too risky as he might have injured or killed her, or even trailed her back to the cubs and killed them (no paternal feelings - they would simply be future rivals for food and mates). Very dangerous to judge animals by our own social mores. Ouch
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  Quote Ceregorn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Apr 2010 at 4:49pm
I loved both of those. They fell somewhere between Kipling and Durrell in Watching and the transcriptions of African folklore for Onwards and upwards.... Perfect reading for a sunny afternoon when I've just returned from a stroll around the woods. Smile
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Apr 2010 at 5:04pm
Originally posted by Ceregorn

They fell somewhere between Kipling and Durrell in Watching and the transcriptions of African folklore for Onwards and upwards....  Smile
 
Embarrassed Thank you - that's a huge compliment. Smile
 
Regrettably I've never read Durrell, but Kipling was definitely in my mind when I was writing Onwards and upwards. We had several guides when we were travelling about Africa, black and white, but always nationals of the country we were in and they did tell us some tall stories sometimes but I noticed in the ex-British colonies (Kenya and Zimbabwe particularly) that they all seemed to get a little Kiplingesque at times LOL I adored the Just So stories when I was a kid, particularly the Elephant's Child and so that was the 'natural' narrative style that came to mind when I decided to use a folk story we'd been told in Kenya. I tend to read my writing aloud however and with this, it did actually sound 'right' told with an East African accent! Wink
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Time Traveller - Orc Forgiver

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  Quote DrWho7Freak Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Apr 2010 at 11:07pm
Do you have a few more of these? The Onwards and Upwards was real funny.  I would love to read more of these!
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alias author Jan Hawke

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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Apr 2010 at 11:30pm
Eventually - this last year I haven't had the time or inclination for this but I want to do more with it. Most of them will have to go in the adult section though but there are a couple more that are 'light' enough for in here
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Aug 2010 at 4:03pm
A big, big thank you once again to Saranna for editing this next instalment - it's had a couple of favourable reviews so far, but as usual I'd like feedback on the 'perfected copy' from as many types of readership (which we do thankfully have on here Wink) as this isn't 'easy' or mainstream writing. Subject to a review of the medical elements, this should be the version for publication if I get that far...

Another link in the chain of the background theme that runs through all the stories, most of which so far have been too raw/upsetting to put out in the family area. This part has some disturbing violence, but I think this is milder than the ones already written and is anyway, something I feel strongly should be in the public domain on the way modern Africa really is - via fiction, but based on actual events that have been adapted for this story as 'real' people would have experienced it.
 
PG13
Please be advised that there are passages in this referring to violent death in a hostage situation. If this is likely to cause you upset then please read no further.
 

After the Rains


22nd May 1994

Dearest Ma,

I put Sophie on the plane for London about an hour ago. Physically she's much better than she was earlier this week, but still pretty shaken up as you might imagine. The CAMEO [1] area co-ordinator for Vutare couldn't have been kinder to us - by the time I got there he'd already checked the outgoing flights to both UK and to Harare for us, as well as making all the calls for me to confirm bookings etc.
Oh ma - Sophie's really in a state, so they've sedated her as far as they could for the flight. They had one of their medical staff, a Dr. Youssef Al Ghamdi, who was going to be travelling to London on leave last weekend, but postponed in view of what happened - he's a long-standing friend and colleague of the Zimmermans and Dr. Olatunde trained under him when she joined the organisation apparently. He met us in Lusaka last night and he was so good with Sophie, I feel much better now about not being able to come back with her, but as you know Grant's out in Virginia for at least another fortnight, so I have to get back to the kids.
I'll ring you as soon as I get back to Harare, but they cancelled the bloomin' flight (again!) and  I'm stuck here for another rotten night, so this is in case I get bumped onto an overland transfer, although I'm on standby for a Zambia Air flight early tomorrow, so hopefully we'll have talked by the time you get this.
You'll have seen Sophie by then anyway, but I wanted to pass on something that Alma, Sophie's boss was at pains to point out to me the day that I arrived. When the news first came through to them in Vutare, Sophie was still pretty groggy with the first bout of malaria, but also the morning sickness of course. Well you can see that anyway because she's so skinny at the moment. Ma - she collapsed in hysterics and they think that's partly why the coma came on so suddenly. She's blaming Dr. Olatunde for everything. Apparently Tom had been close friends with the Dr for at least a year before Sophie came out there. Nothing romantic at all - the woman was a nun after all and apparently did not 'get on' with men too well, but her and Tom were the best of friends it seems and so when Sophie came on the scene there was a lot of friction as Sophie got very jealous of the Dr's 'influence' on Tom.
There's no information coming out of Mwanza just now, but when it first came out the police were in touch with the Carmelites in Vutare over the Dr's assignment and why Tom was there with her as he was supposed to return to Vutare via Arusha after getting her to Mwanza.
Sophie's got it into her head that the Dr. guilt-tripped Tom into going with her to Umbeke and so it's all her fault. It wasn't Mum. Tom volunteered to go to Umbeke because the driver scheduled to take her had come down with a whopping dose of dysentery and there was no one else available - it was all the most terrible bad luck.
Alma's promised to get as much information as she can on what really happened to me in the first instance - apparently CAMEO are good that way with letting colleagues know what went on in situations like this, because of the close relationships their teams have. Closure or some such buzzword, but of course they do such grisly work and people do need to know what happens to friends and respected colleagues, especially when it's something so awful.
Sophie's talked to me a little about Tom - how I wish  we could've met him beyond the photos of them she sent from when they were in Vic Falls! He  soun seemed wonderful - just the sort of chap who would've really looked after her. Certainly not the kind of lad who'd be chasing other women, let alone a nun twice his age right under Sophie's nose. She said that the Dr. made all the running so at least she's not got that jumbled, but she said some really awful things about the poor woman to me and Alma says it's simply not true or grossly exaggerated, as the Dr. was a very professional person with strong  principles - it couldn't have been true. There's no question that she 'made' Tom do anything against his will. Alma's asked me to make sure that this is made clear to you as Sophie will need a lot of support back in the UK, for which the organisation are offering professional therapy/counselling as part of their care package for employees in situations like this.
Youssef  also talked to me a bit last night after Sophie got her head down - she  was exhausted after the journey. He told me that from his own friendship with the Zimmermans, who were Dr. Olatunde's godparents apparently, that they were all very dedicated people and he was sure that everyone caught up in the standoff would have done all they could to minimise the danger they were in at Umbeke. He did say one strange thing though - that he was surprised that Dr. Olatunde has been given the assignment to head up the reception clinic for the Zyandan refugees. Something about her background in Nigeria.
Anyway - I've just seen the length of this letter! I'd better go and get some shuteye myself - I have to be back at the airport again at 4 am in case I can get on this ruddy 'milk run' flight!
Much love and kisses to Dad - tell him we're all fine and hope to be over with you again come 'suicide month'. Will be wonderful to get away from the hellish heat of Zim to the lovely damp English autumn!

Claire - xxx

*************

10 years later ~ Royal College of Surgeons, London.

Why the bloody hell had she let Youssef talk her into coming to this conference? She adored him, but he could be a real pain in the bum at times. Especially about CAMEO, but then it was his job. His life more or less, although he was getting better now he'd got this jammy gig as a consultant lecturer on tropical diseases at King's as a sideline to the day job. She got off the tube at Holborn and walked unhurriedly around the corner into Lincoln's Inn Fields and headed for the familiar late Georgian facade, skirting the mostly immaculate green swards of the fenced gardens, though the bushes sometimes showed signs of a hasty beery supper or makeshift cardboard blanket for some homeless soul. Raggedy people were all over the world, just some places you couldn't see them so well, but they were there all the same. And some of them didn't look raggedy on the outside she reminded herself.

She was there and Youssef was waiting for her by the gate. "I knew you'd be early!" he greeted her as always with a friendly hand on her shoulder and a light kiss on the forehead.
"Keen as always, boss!" They laughed and went up the steps into the building past a banner proclaiming the conference being hosted there - 'Modern Aid to a Modern Africa'.
"So how is general practice in a garrison town suiting you these days?" Youssef smiled at her as they sipped coffee in the reception room.
"Interesting. Now the MOD recognises PTSD
[2] as a proper medical condition I get some psychiatric referrals too."
"Also interesting?"
"What do you think? Nothing really changes does it?"
"No. All you can do is try to help if you can."
"If you have the strength. That's why I'm still in civvy street and staying there thanks."
"Ah, Sophie..." He ran long surgeon's fingers through mostly grey hair. "You don't have to meet them you know. They'll understand, but they'd like to meet you. Especially Henryk."
"I'm here, aren't I? Of course I'll meet them. As for the rest..." Cool blue eyes looked warily into deep wise brown ones. "... we'll see Youssef. I can't promise anything."

People were beginning to filter into the exhibition area and this was where Youssef had arranged to meet Henryk and Helga Zimmerman, so she and Youssef made a move as well. The CAMEO stand was of course impressive and Youssef steered Sophie to the various sections he knew she'd be interested in. It was whilst they were talking to the PR lady in the emergency surgical teams section that the Zimmermans arrived. Youssef's face lit up with pleasure as he introduced Sophie to them. "It is good to meet you finally, Sophie - you are looking very well!". Henryk shook her by the hand, smiling broadly, then put his arm around his petite wife. "Helga's a little deaf these days, so make sure she can see your face." Sophie smiled and took the old lady's hand gently.
"I'm very pleased to meet both of you at last! I hope you had an uneventful flight over here?"
"It was OK, thank you. Left on time and landed safe, thank the Lord. I do not like flying so much - never did!" Helga's English was more halting that her husband's, but her expression was so kind Sophie immediately took to her.
"I know what you mean! I hate being cooped up on long hauls. But working out in Africa you have to put up with that of course, even if you're not leaving the continent!"

They looked so old, but upright and vigorous still she thought. Considering their lives had been given over to various humanitarian causes and war zones and they had only been retired a couple of years, they looked pretty good for seventy odd. These days the German couple lived fairly quietly in South Africa and did the occasional bit of consultancy work on the seminar circuit, so this was a working holiday for them, that they were fitting into a longer vacation that took in visiting relations in Holland and Germany. They all moved on to look at the other stands, talking easily, until it was time for lunch. The Zimmermans had made plans to dine with another friend, but before they left the two doctors for the while, Henryk asked Sophie to get them some seats together in the Lecture Hall as Youssef was one of the speakers.
"We are very much looking forward to hearing about the latest practices in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder - heaven knows it's needed badly and not just in Africa."
"All over the world, Henryk." Youssef gave a rueful smile to his old friends. "I'm thankful to Sophie for some parts of my piece - she's quite the expert on EMDR 
[3]."
"Give over, silly!" Sophie glared at Youssef, a little flustered that he'd brought up her input into his presentation in front of them. She'd been happy to help him out, but this had been the beginning of him nagging her, saying that she could really do some good with her expertise out in Zyanda right now. "And I'm not an expert, just a well-informed practitioner. Take no notice of him Henryk!"
"Sophie is too modest, not only is she having a lot of success with it in her psychotherapy clinic down in Aldershot, but she's also undergone the therapy herself."
Sophie had gone beetroot-red and threw another furious look at Youssef as Helga asked what EMDR was. To add insult to injury he nodded to her to reply.
"It means 'eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing' - a little like the movements your eyes make when you're dreaming? That's called REM rapid eye movements in dream-phase sleep."
"Like a trance or hypnosis then?" Henryk had been listening carefully to her. She laughed and cringed inwardly because it sounded so brittle. "Not really. The client's conscious throughout and simply follows the therapist's finger, or a pencil they hold up and move from side to side, whilst the person's focussing on a specific visualisation of their particular trauma and this helps them to confront the worst memories 'safely'." She saw the elderly couple look at each other doubtfully. " It's really simple to do, but hard to explain - Youssef's presentation will probably make it clearer. Let's get lunch over shall we? I promise I'll get you some good seats near the front!"

As good as her word, Sophie was one of the first people to get into the lecture hall and made a bee line for the front row, managing to get the end of the line that was handy for the exit, as she wasn't sure she wanted to stay the full hour for all the presentations. She'd have to now though as Youssef was the last speaker but one according to the programme on her seat. Henryk and Helga joined her almost immediately in high spirits.
"This is such a lovely place - the catering is very good isn't it?" Henryk beamed at her and she laughed. "In this country the medical professions tend to be gourmets I think - and wannabe sommeliers too!"
"We have some good wine down in South Africa now!" Helga was looking a little merry and her eyes were twinkling at Sophie.
"Oh, I know - I love the chardonnays."
"Ah, well if you are coming back to Africa you must come to see us some time and we will get some of our local wine in for you to try." Sophie almost gasped at Henryk's first words, then managed to calm herself and answer him sensibly, if a little stiffly.
"Coming back? No, you've got that wrong I'm afraid." Bloody Youssef! She'd get him for this later. "I've no plans to go back, not even to see my sister in Kenya." She must have sounded rather tart for Henryk was immediately contrite.
"I am sorry, I must have misunderstood what Youssef was saying the other day."
"It's alright it's not your fault. He's been trying to get me interested in some project for Zyanda for a while, but... well, I don't want to go there."
Henryk nodded, but there was a stubborn look in his eye. "Understandable, my dear." He was going to say something else, but a look from Helga silenced him for a moment. His next words took another turn entirely.
"I don't know if Youssef told you, but we have brought something for you - copies of the transcripts of the police statements myself and Christian Kamate gave right after the Umbeke incident. Our friend at lunch is staying here at the College and he has invited all of us to have drinks and dinner here with him later. Our hotel is just up the road so I could go and get the transcripts and bring them back here for you? They're yours to keep - I have my own copies."

She was speechless almost. Luckily the hall had filled up and it looked like the talk was about to start. "Well... let's decide about that once this is over, shall we?"
"Of course. I  should have mentioned it earlier."
The lights over the audience were dimming as the Chairman stood up to make brief introductions and the first slideshow started, so they all gave their attention to the lecture. Sophie was ill at ease still and fiddled with the white gold ring she wore on the middle finger of her right hand throughout. It had an elegant cluster with a raindrop tanzanite stone, surrounded by nine little diamonds.

*************

Transcript of Police Statement: Henryk Zimmerman
Homicide of :- Aaron Tamale (resident); Dr. Teresa Olatunde (Nigerian/SA Citizen); Thomas Harrison (UK Citizen); Rev. Jean-Batiste Mbrame (Zyandan Citizen) - 18th May 1994

Part 2 : Events pertaining to Dr. Olatunde & Tom Harrison
I knew Dr. Teresa Olatunde since she was around 10 years old in 1968. We met during the course of my work as a surgical team orderly and liaison officer in Biafra, now south-eastern Nigeria. She was in a semi-comatose state and had been shot in the chest, was covered in cigarette burns and heavy bruising and had suffered a spontaneous abortion as well as general ill-health due to severe malnutrition and dehydration. She needed immediate surgery as there was advanced infection and a hysterectomy had to be performed as the internal infection was life-threatening. Subsequently my wife, Helga Zimmerman and myself sponsored Teresa's transfer of residency to South Africa for convalescence in a Carmelite nursing order, which also operated an orphanage and school.

We continued to support Teresa financially throughout, including dual citizenship for her in South Africa and in Nigeria once order had been restored there. We also set up a grant for her college training at medical school in Kenya. On leaving college, she took holy orders with the Carmelites and worked in South Africa and then Zambia in various locations. I think she was stationed in Vutare for almost 12 years, as chief medical officer, running a general clinic for inoculations and obstetrics, malaria and other maladies and later on she also introduced a contraception advisory service against the wishes of her order, but with full backing for the initiative from CAMEO, who had the final say on services offered at the school and surgical unit. She had applied to CAMEO for transfer to work with refugees and/or in war zones at the beginning of 1993 and was initially unsuccessful due to her background, as it was thought her mental fortitude was compromised and, being tiny physically, there were also doubts over her strength and energy levels to withstand the demands of working in extreme field conditions. However, with the situation here in Zyanda escalating in April this year the decision was...

Sophie sighed and closed the file. The train was only a few stops from Aldershot now and whilst some of this was new to her, she didn't need to read it. She had heard most of Terry's early history from Youssef years ago, after she had emerged from the worst period of spiralling depression when she'd returned to the UK. Although she'd long ago got over her own misplaced resentment towards and unnecessary rivalry with Terry, she still found it hard to do the doctor-nun justice. As she gathered put the file back in her bag, Sophie reflected on how her attitude to Terry had changed since that horrible day back in Tanzania. The nun should never have been given the Umbeke job but, with the urgency to get some aid and shelter set up for the terrified people who were spilling out over the Zyandan borders, the Zimmermans actually asked for Terry to run the emergency clinic in Umbeke during the setup phase for them. The placement had more or less gone through on the nod, since the camp was in Tanzania and not Zyanda. It had been like sending a little kid to war with a wooden gun and a 'willing attitude'. Sophie knew that Henryk in particular felt responsible for Terry cracking up, although of course nobody could have foreseen that the Zyandans would have started to come through at the old Umbeke mission settlement so soon.

The rest was simply consequential of the bloody mess of old colonial favouritism and tribal antagonism - except it wasn't of course. Something cataclysmic had happened in Zyanda. The death toll alone was horrific. Well over 800,000 people, just ordinary people, not even soldiers for the most part, had been slaughtered in only one hundred days starting in April and finishing in June, whilst the rest of Africa and the world looked on in stunned disbelief. Until Umbeke.

Other places in the Congo, Burundi and Uganda had already begun to get blank-eyed, traumatised refugees seeking asylum from the madness, where Matu neighbours were killing Lutse children, who had played happily with their own sons and daughters only weeks before it all kicked off. But in Umbeke 'foreigners' had been killed on another nation's soil and of course that changed everything. Only four people had died, one of them the leader of the Zyanda militia group who had pursued thirty-six women and children, including a half dozen sympathetic Matu women, who helped their friends escape over the border. A Tanzanian medical assistant, Terry and her poor Tom, all murdered. For nothing more than trying to help people in the direst need at the wrong place and the wrong time.

T. I. A. This is Africa folks. A sodding hopeless, never-ending series of disasters waiting to happen. The train had arrived and she got off and headed for the taxi office. She'd read the rest of it tomorrow...

.... we should not have pressed for Teresa to come and help us set up the clinic. Everything is clearer with hindsight. Aaron had broken away from the men guarding us, to warn Teresa and Tom Harrison and make them turn back and get help for us. The Zyandan men had burst in on us only 5 minutes before the supply truck arrived and we were all still in shock and fearful for the women and children naturally. Aaron was so brave and he nearly succeeded, but Teresa and Tom were puzzled by his frantic waving and shouting, so they got out of the cab, all smiles, thinking he was greeting them and by then of course it was too late. Aaron was hacked to death with pangas [4].   This is when I first came to suspect that their rifles at least were not loaded.
We could all see straight away that Teresa was in difficulties - she was very pale and trembling as the Zyandans marched her and Tom over to us. He was relatively calm considering, but I could see he was very concerned about Teresa. As soon as she saw the refugees she was 'frozen'. Tom tried to console her, but she pushed him away. When they marched us over to the old school house, he had to drag her with us. Once we were inside, Teresa was almost collapsing with fear and shock, but my wife held her and talked to her and then Tom and I talked to Teresa as well and she came around to her normal self.
We could see the canteen, where the Zyandan ladies were all gathered, from the school house window. It was hard to hear what was being said, but the priest, Mbrame, did a lot of shouting which we could hear. He interrogated 2 of the Matu women, forcing them to kneel before him and asking why they had helped the others. The second woman was the head-teacher of the village school, Mrs.Shona. She had been the one who had gathered the mothers of some of the younger Lutse schoolchildren together and had persuaded them to get out of their settlement and come across the border. Mrs. Shona is a very strong person and argued with Mbrame. He got very angry and started to strike her and she fell to the ground. Christian, our translator, Tom, myself and Teresa all saw this through the window, but Teresa was the one who reacted quickly and managed to dodge past the boy who was guarding us and ran out shouting at Mbrame to stop hitting Mrs. Shona. Both Tom and I tried to stop her, but David, the young man with the AK, levelled it at us and we had to go back to the window.

I cannot say that Teresa entirely brought this on herself. What she did was foolish in the extreme, but it did bring matters to a head with Mbrame's squad, who had been feeling increasingly mortified by the killings. Most of them were only there because Mbrame had bullied them into following the women to Umbeke. Some of them had not even realised that they had crossed the Tanzanian border. We found out this afterwards when it was over and we talked to Abraham, the man who killed Mbrame and took over command of the other militia men.

We went back to the window anyway. Teresa and Mbrame were shrieking at each other in French and it was hard for me to follow what was being said, but Christian was giving us a running commentary and it became clear that Teresa was in trouble and perhaps endangering everyone else, when we saw Abraham brought in, pointing his rifle at Teresa. Both Tom and I were now convinced that the men were short of ammunition - why else would they use pangas to kill Aaron when they were all carrying rifles mostly. There were the two AKs of course, but we were not so sure of those. Anyway Teresa was still yelling, despite having a rifle almost in her face and so we had to do something to help her. I asked Christian to talk to David, the guard and ask if Tom and I could go out and try and bring Teresa back in. This is when we were told that Abraham would not kill her and what made us take a calculated risk, on the basis that none of the guns were loaded.
David listened and agreed to let Tom and I go out. I asked Christian to look after my wife and we went out. Whilst we had been negotiating with David the argument had got worse and Teresa and Mbrame had squared up to each other again and were screaming nose to nose almost. Teresa and Abraham both had their backs to us, but as we came out of the school house the other men turned to look at us. I remember watching some of the men's faces - they all looked ill at ease, even frightened. We carried on walking towards them, but then Mbrame gave a great roar and slashed at Teresa's shoulders, then back again with his panga, this time at her face and neck. I think he stabbed her several times as well, but it is confusing because so much was happening at once. Teresa fell to her knees screaming with pain and Abraham tried to pull her away, but Mbrame was in a frenzy and he had to back off. Teresa had fallen to floor completely and I think she may already have been dead. I am not sure though. I was just standing there for maybe a second and so was Tom and then he had sprinted a few metres from me, howling and shouting to Teresa. As Mbrame yelled at another of his men, the one with the other AK, to shoot at Tom, I began to run as well shouting at Tom to come back. The AK man was to the side of us and about 10 maybe 15 metres away from Mbrame.

There was the noise of the gun, but Tom was still running for several more metres, though I saw him stagger twice and then he fell and sprawled on the ground. As I ran to him he tried to get up and made it to his hands and knees as I got to him and bent down to help him. He turned to me and I saw the blood as one of the bullets hit him on the side of his head. On his temple. He put a hand out to me and I caught him under the arm and waist, then we both went down and I turned him onto his back so I could see where the other bullets had hit him. I think it was silent for a few moments before the priest was shouting again. All my attention was on Tom then. Christian said Mbrame was saying for the AK man to shoot me as well, but I did not hear because Tom was trying to talk to me. He asked what was happening to Teresa. I said I thought she was dead and then we both were crying. Then he said something like "Thank God I stopped Sophie coming."...

She turned the file over and wiped tears away. Standing up she went to the cabinet and poured herself a brandy, her hands shaking a little and she went into the conservatory, more tears streaming down, like the late spring rain on the windows. It wasn't as though she hadn't known this. She'd seen other reports after all, including the autopsy for both Tom and Terry. Friends in high places were useful and Youssef had kept to his promise when he had come back to see her again, shortly after they had flown back from Zambia. He had had to give up field duty himself five years earlier when he had started work with after-care services for CAMEO and had just been made head of department when she had met him with Claire at Lusaka.

Back in England, Youssef was practically the only one who had understood how she was feeling, since he had also had a very bad burnout working up in Eritrea that had put an end to his mobile surgical career, as he knew he was becoming too unstable in and out of theatre. If it hadn't been for Youssef, she didn't know how she would have made it, let alone get her own act together and find a way to work through her own grief and nightmares. Regain some purpose and control in deciding to train as a doctor, instead of a teacher as she and Tom had planned when they'd gone back to Vutare after their wonderful time in Vic Falls.

Catharsis. It still eluded her no matter what she tried. The EMDR therapy had been the only thing that helped her come to terms with the sorrow and outrage. In a way her grief was made worse for her not being there. Not actually there where it all happened. It was more what had been taken away from her. Her love, her baby, her future. The therapy had helped her to rationalise her true loss.  Had let her remember without too much distress. It didn't help with going on though. Not entirely.

That was where Youssef had come in. Her team boss in Vutare had told Claire that any questions she had about Umbeke could be answered when she was over the malaria attack and better able to cope with everything. Youssef had confirmed this almost as soon as he met them in Lusaka. She had been barely conscious, zonked with painkillers and sedatives, but she had felt reassured listening to his low, soothing voice and the following day on the flight he had held her hand and started to tell her about the Zimmermans and about Terry and how all three of them had saved the nun's life out in Biafra, almost thirty years ago. Saying farewell to her at arrivals in Heathrow, after making sure her parents were there and understood about the medicine that she had to take, and telling them about the appointment card for clinics at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases at University College in London, he'd taken her hand again and said he'd make sure they got with any more information on the killings as it became available, through Claire, or from himself whenever he was back in the UK on business.

About eighteen months later Youssef had arrived on their doorstep in Guildford with the engagement ring that Tom had bought for her in Mwanza...

... he knew he was dying. I had taken my jacket off and tried to compress the worst wounds on his chest, but it was hopeless and he was bleeding badly from the head wound; from his ear, nose and even his eyes. He told me to stop so I did, but still tried to keep wiping the blood out of his eyes. His voice was very weak then and I had to lower my ear to his lips to make out what he was saying.
Ring
Pocket
Sophie
Hers
The ring
He had been putting his hand in his jacket pocket every so often whilst we were in the school house and finally I realised what he has talking about. I found the little box and held it in his fingers for him. He could not hold it himself as he was starting to shake badly. I could not see his face anymore because of the blood and my own tears. He was a blur to me, but he was still trying to tell me something. I put my ear right to his mouth. Blood was bubbling out there now as well. I could barely make out the words.
Love her
Ring
I promised him I would give her the ring. I was still holding his hand and the box. He brushed the back of my hand with his finger. Then the spasms began in earnest so he could not speak at all. He died in my arms.

I had been oblivious to everything that had gone on around me. I had not even realised Mbrame had ordered the AK man to shoot me as well. Helga, my wife, she came and knelt with me and put her arms around me and Tom as well. Christian came and squatted down beside us. We were all crying. Helga said I was a mess and I looked and saw the front of my body was smeared with blood. It was all Tom's blood. I told Helga I was not hurt and she slapped me hard on the face. She said not to be so stupid, then kissed me and held my head to her chest.

There were two other men who came to us now. David the boy who guarded us in the school house and Abraham, his grandfather, who had tried to get Teresa away from Mbrame. They wanted us to take Teresa's body out of the heat. Abraham said it was not fitting for him or the other men to do this. Christian said he would go. Helga said I was to stay with Tom. She went after Christian. Abraham could speak a little French and he said he was very sorry that Teresa and Tom had been killed. He said he wished he could have got Teresa away from Mbrame, but the man was insane and he feared him so much. He said he had been weak and so stood and did nothing. I told him I had seen him trying to help. That the Lord knew who was responsible for all of this and would be merciful to those who had tried to stop it.
Christian had come back to us and overheard this last part. He said that Abraham had saved my life and killed the evil man. Christian told me this as we carried Tom back to the school house and laid him on the big table beside Teresa. I could not look at Teresa again after that first glance. My wife was sitting beside the body. Helga was holding her head in her hands and I could see her shoulders shaking with her sobbing, but she made no sound really. The next thing I knew I was outside on the veranda and Helga was crouched in front of me, holding my head between my knees. She was still crying, but her voice was soft and normal. She said I had been sick and had collapsed, so Christian and David had carried me outside into the shade.

After a little while Christian came and gave us both some little plastic cups of water from the cooler in the office. Abraham was with him. Christian told us that he had called the area police over in Mwanza and they would be here around dusk. He said that Abraham and the other Zyandan men would now leave as soon as they could. Abraham wanted us to come and talk to the women. He wanted the 6 Matu women to return with them. I told Christian to tell him that was for the Matu ladies to decide for themselves. As Christian translated for us Abraham looked at me and I saw the sorrow and regret in his eyes. He is an honourable man at heart I think. He nodded and there was a stream of local Swahili that I could not follow. Christian said they were content for the women to stay here if they wanted to. He gave us a few more minutes and then we...

This is Africa. She knew the rest. It was hard for westerners to understand Africans. Henryk and Helga did. They saw past the poverty and the hunger and the seemingly ignorant refusal to stop living in the day and make provision for the future. They could see the good still in this old man who, despite his compassionate behaviour that day, had nevertheless slain who knows how many innocent, defenceless people over those last bloody weeks. They let them go free, leaving their guns and rifles behind, in the hope that they might do more good back in their own land, or at least would no longer do evil.

Abraham, David and the others disappeared. They were never brought to justice and were probably dead, especially if they refused to be part of the hateful carnage that had gone on for another month or more before international pressure and intervention finally came and brought the atrocities to an end. It was far too late for all those Lutse and the Matu who had tried to intercede for their friends and neighbours, whose only crime had been to be born into the wrong tribe.

It began after the rains and ended in the dry heat of June. The madness ended, but its legacy was still being paid for by the survivors. Women without their men. Mothers without their sons. Those who had been drawn along in the mayhem and hysteria and become something unspeakable as mob rule invaded their hearts and minds. They paid too. They had to live with the nightmare reality of their own creation. Had to live alongside people without limbs, bearing terrible scars that went far too deep, until they were all victims of a malevolent cancer that had torn their nation savagely apart and cast them all into perdition.

Genocide. The pain goes on and on. T. I. A.


[1] CAMEO The Co-ordinated Aid, Medicine and Education Organisation. An entirely fictional logistical umbrella group for several humanitarian organisations working all over the world.

[2] PTSD - post-traumatic stress disorder. This is a debilitating mental condition that affects people who have had traumatic experiences through various kinds of physical, mental or emotional violence such as abuse, bullying or through injury in military service, or as a result of crime etc.

[3] EMDR - eye movement desensitisation and re-processing. A type of psycho-therapy that is deemed to be effective in treating people suffering from persistent dysfunctionality as a result of PTSD.

[4] Panga – a large heavy-bladed knife like a machete. Generally used in Africa for cutting through thick vegetation, or butchering carcasses of bush-meat.

 

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  Quote Doughnut Jimmy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Aug 2010 at 9:31pm
Wow, having read this last one plus the tales in the adult section I think you've got a very powerful collection here. Not pleasant obviously but the sort of thing that needs to be written about so we don't forget how brutal people can be. 
I like the style as well, the way you manage to capture the different voices of the narrator and in this one the depiction of the distortion we create around a traumatic loss with Sophie's feelings towards Teresa 
The road goes ever on and on
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Aug 2010 at 10:59pm
Thanks DJ - Smile The Sophie story thread's tough to write which is why there's a long gap between the 3 in the FreeWorlds and this one. It helps that some of these characters are based on people I met on various holidays to eastern and southern Africa - in particular Henryk and Helga (not their real names) who were fantastic people and made a big impression on me in the 2 days they stayed at a camp within us in the Kafue National Park. Most of all it's the landscapes that stayed with me but also how it impacted on the people who lived there, black or white and the realities of disease and poverty and the conflicts of course.
 
Anyway - I'm pleased with the feedback I'm getting and with how it's stretching my own storytelling skills. Some of the stronger stuff has meant I've had to find ways to write them without getting too 'close' sentimental, but still convey the feelings naturally, which is why I've got Sophie envious, then furious with Teresa for very little reason other than she was jealous of Tom's long-standing friendship with her. To actually get the traumatic events written down it's been necessary to look at them from different perspectives else I'd probably not be able to write in narrative for crying, which in Kwashiorkor did nearly overwhelm me literally as I typed it, because Teresa's abuse was based on reported events and not even that uncommon in terms of war atrocities. So that's been a safety valve and whilst impactful, does keep it reasonably detached where the aid worker side of it is concerned - how people can do that kind of work so professionally is remarkable, no matter how distanced they try to be! Confused
 
Next episode's quite funny in places and not around the Sophie storyline so I'm having an easier time writing it and Penners from the TP site's helping me with some of it as he used to work out in South Africa and did a safari guide course - nice change of pace from the highly charged bits LOL
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote Saranna Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Aug 2010 at 11:43am
Glad you are getting a break from the traumatic bits, Jano-Morgause, but sure that the next installment will be equally good Thumbs Up
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Sep 2010 at 10:08pm

Again many thanks to Saranna for editing services and comments (I've put some more dialogue in for you, although Harry will keep to his raconteur's role! Wink). This one's not so intense as it focuses more on the natural history and conservation aspects of life in Africa, though these too have their own dangers...

PG13 Where warranted strong language is used in this section.



Trophies

Sophie’s Diary: Monday 1st May ~ Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

Terra Incognita for me, but back on the Zambezi.  Whatever you think of the politics in this country they really have looked after their National Parks. The lake itself is stunning, especially at sunrise and sunset, and the camp Claire's booked for us in the Sanyati Gorge is gorgeous. Eva got a little puffed going up the hill from the landing stage, but it's really hot here so I think she's OK, although she was feeling sick last night. Probably too much biltong [1] yesterday - I told her to have a good drink of water after eating it, but as usual she knows best, or rather her personal 'coach' does. So of course now she's swearing off Kudu meat forever, despite stuffing it down like it was going out of fashion, saying how tasty it was. Then she wonders why she's got stomach cramps because she wouldn't take a pint of bottled water to swish it down like everyone else had.

Anyway she's back on form tonight now her new best friend Harry's arrived. Honestly these safari guides are just one big cliché sometimes - I swear he's modelled his bush outfit on Stewart Granger in King Solomon's Mines!  Except for the shorts. These Zimbabwean bush camps are solid with tanned hairy male legs and I swear it's because they're allergic to long trousers!  Actually he's a very nice guy is Harry - knows his stuff and he's been great company this evening, so I guess he's worth his astronomic fee. Gareth and Keith are off with him at dawn tomorrow to canoe up the gorge a way to a bee-eater colony and then go croc watching - hundreds of the damn things on this river, but they want to get some stock river shots for the art director. Eva and I have passed and are going out on the pontoon for the late afternoon cruise - we've both fallen in love with the malachite kingfishers. Beautiful little things - like tiny flying jewels, but they're so quick and therefore quite hard to photograph...

He laughed warmly, eyes crinkling with merriment, even though the 'Ark' gag was hardly novel. "Well Eva, you saw the lake from the air - it's man-made, and it's only been full of water since the late fifties and early sixties. We needed a reservoir, simple as, and there was the mighty Zambezi with lots of tributaries joining it from the south and in the north from what was Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, or Zambia as it's known today. So hey presto - let's make a dam!" Harry grinned as he sucked on his pipe, sending up little sparks of tobacco, glittering in the dark as the match took a hold. " 'Course it took almost five years for the valley to gradually flood and they had to move the Ba Tonga people and all the animals on as the water levels rose. Most of the people went and resettled around the south-western end of the lake in Binga District, or went to the Zambian side, but the wildlife mostly ended up on the south eastern side of the lake here and we got the Matusadona National Park as a result. And the Tiger Fish thrived in the water - game fishing fans love 'em! Not to mention all that lovely hydro-electricity as well. But there had to be an Ark - lots of 'em as well, because the animals got stranded on the new islands like Fothergill and Spurwing. It was a little bit like a wildlife Dunkirk, with everyone who had a boat chipping in to help Rupert Fothergill, who'd started Operation Noah... [2]

"Harry! Watch yourself! You saw the crocs not ten minutes ago. They may have looked sleepy on the sandbars, but they wake up pretty quick if they see something moving that looks tasty!" He grinned cheekily at his Ma, but pulled his hand out of the water all the same and joined her at the front of the boat. She was looking at the cormorants and darters, already drying out their wings from the first hunt of the day in the naked Ironwood trees. "They seem to like the dead trees more than the live ones don't they?" Helena smiled at her nine year old son and he nodded without much interest. She sighed, shaking her head  "Go on then - take the bins..."
"Thanks Ma!"
"Just put them down every so often - the rubber will go all sticky around your eyes when it gets hotter!" Helena laughed, then carried on watching the birds on the skeletal remains of the drowned Ironwoods, thinking how eerily beautiful they looked in the early morning light.

He scanned the foreshore with his mother's light but powerful binoculars, looking for buffalo, which he found without too much trouble, but hoping for elephants. It had been all over Kariba Town last weekend that Mr Fothergill, despairing of getting a herd of females moved from one of the rapidly shrinking islands, had got them to the southern edge and had been surprised to see them all wade out into the water and then start to swim for the southern shore towards the Matusadona Hills, despite having four very young calves. They'd apparently been in the water for about twenty minutes and out of their depth for about half that time. Harry had been enthralled with the account in the newspaper and had pestered his mother all week to be allowed to go out with her on Saturday to help with the rafts for the smaller animals, but of course hoping to see even one elephant swim...

"I never saw them swim that day, but about a month later I went out with mother again and saw three bull elephants take to the lake. Very impressive sight! Seen them swimming many, many times since. They're pretty good at it, but better snorkelers - and yes, before you ask, they do keep their trunks out of the water, so they look a bit like sea serpents with their noses up and then you see a bit of their heads and then their backs." He stopped for a puff of the pipe and watched the smoke curling up into the night.  "The calves take to it quickly - but they're all water babies are ellies. They love it!"

He stared into the flames for a few moments and then began to answer more questions about the making of Lake Kariba. The moon was rising high now, but there'd be no night drive - the Sanyati Gorge was too rugged for vehicles to negotiate safely, even during daylight. Canoes and Shanks's pony were the classy mode of transport up here and he had an early start... "I'd better get some kip in now I think. See you at six, chaps - someone'll bring you some tea around five-thirty!"

*************

"Hiya Soph!" Gareth hailed her from the path. Sophie looked up lazily from her Jilly Cooper and smiled at the cameraman as he walked over to the pool.  "How'd it go? Did you do OK for croc shots?"
"Fine, ta! Listen - can you get a hold of your sister later on today?"
" 'Course - what about?"
"Keith wants us to come back to Kariba at the end of the tour. This guy Harry, he's a sodding goldmine of info and he says he can take us out hunting with bows at this game ranch just over from Bumi Hills!"
"Should think that's doable, yes - but what's that got to do with the movie?"
"Nothing at all, luv, but Jack's next project is a fantasy thingie and they go hunting with bows an' stuff.  Tons of CGI, so Keith wants to get some footage for that as well. Harry's cool for it, but says he wasn't contracted for that and so it's too late for him to book it whilst we're here."
Sophie laughed "OK - I'll give them a call after lunch."
"Cool! If they can do it, Harry says he'll give her a call when we're finished here and make the arrangements this end!"

Claire was nearly collapsing with hiccups after laughing like a drain "Oh, Sophie! Harry's such a wh*ore! Honestly - I'm going to build an introduction fee into this gig! Hang on a mo..." Sophie could hear a hasty exchange going on in the background, presumably with Grant, Claire's husband and then she was back on.  "Yes, we should be able to arrange the flights back to Kariba from Nairobi OK, but they'll have to go via Harare. Tell Harry I'll give him a call with the dates and who'll be going after I've had a chance to talk to Jack's PA, but it might not be until the weekend now. We've not dealt with these Bumi Hills people before, but I think they have a very good rep - they must have if Harry's tight with them. Tell the old robber hello from Grant and me!"
"I will do - thanks Claire and give Grant a big kiss from me."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa there, Eva!" Harry had just had a good telling off from the actress on the evils of hunting rare animals, which he'd mostly borne with good grace, but enough was enough and there was only so much uninformed flak he was prepared to take from anyone, least of all someone who'd barely set foot outside of California. "I'd agree with you every time on threatened and rare animals - it's a tragedy when they're hunted to extinction and believe me, most African governments these days would back me up and mean it..." He smiled good-humouredly at Eva, she just didn't know what she was talking about and he was about to put that right. Winking at Sophie, who'd worked in villages in or near game reserves over the border in Zambia, he carried on explaining the realities of wildlife management.  "...not because they're bleeding heart tree-huggers, but because wildlife is literally a big revenue industry and they need the money that international tourism brings in. And that includes hunting for food for the locals, as well as issuing licences for trophy hunters. These days with giving over ownership of the reserves to the farmers and herdsmen communities, they're actually encouraging them to look after their wildlife."
"I just don't see why there has to be hunting any more, Harry? This safari and the movie will be  bringing in a lot of revenue surely and the regular trips must bring in steady income?" Eva wasn't just a pretty face and she truly did love all animals.
"Yes, the photographic and green safari dollars are an important part of that, but some of these people are dirt poor and profits for the flights and the travel company side of tourism doesn't reach them necessarily. That's where the hunting market comes into its own - the fees from licensing mostly goes straight to the district councils, then into building schools, clinics and better accommodation, even churches. That way they're really incentivised to look after their game instead of poaching the reserve for the pot, or for ivory or rhino horn. There's still a market for that out in the far east, and of course we've got a goodish elephant population down here for the moment..."

He'd already had this conversation with Gareth and Keith on the river and yeah, he'd got them fired up with going bow-hunting over at Bumi, which was something he enjoyed himself. Much better than Hemingway style as he termed it, with state of the art hunting rifles, which, although he did guiding on that too, was cheating in his book.
"How's it cheating, Harry? The Big Five [3] are hardly defenceless are they?" Keith's northern drawl cut in.
"Because it's not 'real' hunting is it? You go out with the intention of bringing back a trophy don't you and half the time that 'trophy's' been bred to be just that. All you're really doing is using a rifle instead of a camera, safe in the vehicle, holding a state of the art gun that virtually can't
miss for you!  With the horned animals you might as well take the client to a local slaughter-house, because mostly all they're interested in is the trophy they've effectively already bought. Some of them don't even want to track the animal they're taking, to the point where they're almost stepping out of the shower, shooting the animal, then going straight back to get dressed for dinner. They deserve to get royally ripped off for licences and taxidermy and all the other little 'add-ons' that the game ranches rake in!"
"So why's bow-hunting any better then? They use spiffy modern compound bows don't they?"
"You can use traditional longbows as well. It's because you have to get in much closer. You
have to track, keep quiet and concentrate on what you're doing. It's just so much more authentic and the balance is 'right', because you're on a par with your prey and because anything could happen. You might get hurt too, even if it's just providing something for the fly population to chomp on whilst you're getting downwind without breaking cover. It's hunting for real, or as close as you'd get to it these days."
He'd nailed their interest now with the 'authentic' pitch - and it wasn't even stretching the truth that much...

"What can we hunt at your place then, Harry? Any chance of an elephant?" Gareth had been talking guns and hunting with Harry last night.
"It's possible, yes, but I'd have to pass you on to another guide. I don't kill ellies anymore."
Harry did have his own code and elephant were never on his hunting trip list.
"Why not if they're bred for it?"
"Because they're not - you have to own a hell of lot of land to support even a couple of elephant. A whole herd and you'd need to own a National Park and they're protected there of course. Ellies go where they like effectively."
"But last night you said you'd culled elephants when you worked in the Parks?"
"That's why I don't kill them anymore Gareth. They're sacrosanct for me now. Too intelligent and social, plus I had a bellyful of killing whole families when they still culled them up here."
"Why whole families?"
Harry coloured, but not from anger. "Because they're like us - they mourn their dead. If a calf loses its mother - even if it's weaned, you might as well kill it too, because they'll not be able to survive without her. So if we found a herd we'd take them all. It was a lot 'kinder'..." Culling truly was sickening, even though there was reason back then, when the farmers were still trying to get their crops back in after the civil war. He shook his greying head sadly. "Then there's the dwindling black rhino, although we have the largest wild population in the world down here in the Matusadona. Back in my game warden days I saw enough of how the poachers butchered them, and the irony is that you can farm rhino horn - it just keeps on growing if you cut it off carefully."
"You could really farm it?" Keith's eyebrows had disappeared into his hat!
"Uh-huh!" Harry grinned broadly at both of them. "Rhino horn's like your hair or toenails - just keeps on growing. If you want to grow trophy-sized horn then you'd get around three decent lengths in a general life-span. And if you're farming for pharmaceutical purposes then you can take the growth down several times a year! You could make a bloody fortune out of it!"
"We're in the wrong game Keith!" They all laughed.

"But you hunt the other, less rare animals don't you?" Harry nodded patiently at Gareth. Hunting was where he made his big money and he made enough at it to pick and choose what he would and wouldn't hunt.
"Hunting other sustainable herd animals - no problem at all for me. They really are bred for it after all. Carnivores, even lion and hunting dogs on the same premise, as they can breed well in captivity too of course. So long as it's on a kosher ranch, or licensed game area, it's just a much more lucrative way to ensure the wildlife's looked on as an asset. For the horned beasts it's positively easy money and actually good for the animals, as only the best and most magnificent are wanted for trophies. The females and young thrive with no natural predation and the big males all make it to maturity for starters, safe from poachers and siring several generations to ensure those big horn genes stay in the breeding group! And that all happens just because some rich old guy from Tennessee or wherever, wants a nice set of kudu horn or something over his fireplace."

It was money for old rope almost and the client paid through the nose for literally everything - the pro hunter's fee being almost the least of it. Silly prices, and paid at source, where it did most good and everyone, including the precious animals, benefitted in some way. Gun hunting was just not something he enjoyed doing anymore, however great it was for easy money. It was too crude and if the client was a bad shot it could get very distressing, especially if they didn't miss, but botched the shot and hit a non-fatal area...

... He was swearing under his breath as he tried to balance himself to take yet another shot at this bloody buff. Bloody client more like! Big Mr. 'I am', and he was 'gonna git himself one of them big motherf*uckin' Cape bufferloes'... Flaming idiot! He should have listened to his instincts and refused to go out with Marjulies today - the amount the man'd put away last night it was a wonder he made it to lunch, let alone breakfast, but there were only two full days left of their stay here and the old dugga [4] bull they'd found down by the river should've been feeling sluggish so late in the day...

... "Sh*t!" The blasted animal had literally charged and nutted the tree trunk so hard, he'd nearly fallen out and his shot had missed by miles. Harry reloaded quickly, his face grim. He'd have to chance it and get back on the ground, because he sure as hell wasn't going to get a good killing shot in sitting up in a tree bole with this useless clot of a client, who'd managed to drop his weapon even before they'd both had to take shelter from the maddened buff in this ruddy tree.  He looked up at Marjulies, who was rustling the leaves on the next branch up, he was so sh*t-scared. "Stay put and try to be quiet - I'll have to get down if it backs off again."
Dear God, the man was actually crying now..."I mean it! Stay there."

The old bull was puffing and blowing again. This one wasn't going to let things lie and not because by rights it should be lying dead several yards off. All they'd done so far was get it so pumped up with adrenalin it was literally running on spite now. It had moved off a little at last, but was still glaring up at them in the tree. Harry raised his rifle and used the telescopic sight to assess the damage he'd inflicted so far. Despite himself he was impressed - there was blood everywhere down the forequarters, so he'd got it in the chest at least once and judging from the way it was spurting blood he'd hit a major vein, if not the heart. That was buffs for you - mean as hell and long on retribution. This old boy wasn't too far past his prime either. He'd hate to meet up with the new guy who kicked him out - must've been bloody monstrous.

Very, very slowly he put his weight on the right leg and slid his left down and behind the trunk until his foot rested on the stub of an old branch, still looking at the bull. Finally it turned away and trotted off for fifty yards or so, breathing hard now. He only needed those few moments to drop lightly to the ground with most of his body hidden by the tree trunk. The buff had stopped, its chest heaving with the effort of its final strength, but it looked back at them, angling around so he had a choice of a head shot or one more to the chest. He had four shots and those should do it he thought as he raised the Browning.
"Burton! Behind us!" Marjulies hissed at him loud enough for the buff to bellow out its anger and turn full on again. Harry slewed his head towards the slight movements from nearby mopane brush in time to see a battery bird fly away. "Shut the f*uck up!" he growled viciously as he swung back and revised the low shot he'd contemplated in favour of the head, as the wounded buffalo snorted aggressively and its muscles bunched in obedience to its final crack at vengeance.

Hold tight Harry... Keep your focus... but this had gone beyond rationality now. He let off two shots in quick succession and still it came, even though both times he saw skin and blood flying away and the white of bone between the buff's eyes. Another shot, another hit, into the eye itself this time and at last it stumbled as he began to lower the Browning. There was a scream above him from Marjulies, that joined the echoing gunshots reverberating in his ears as, unbelievably, the animal heaved itself back into the charge. Harry inhaled and held it, in a mixture of fury and fear as he took careful aim with his last shot, knowing he'd need to be bloody lucky to have time to reload if it didn't go down this time. Wait. Wait. Make it count. Let it get close. He fired.

He breathed out and stood his ground as the old buffalo finally crumpled forwards onto its knees and slowly fell onto its side as the rear legs splayed and faltered and then were still. It was about two yards away from him. He could smell its blood and sweat, saw the ever-present flies rise up with a buzz, then fall back onto its face, feasting on fresh blood and brains. His legs were shaking now and he breathed in sharply, squatted down on his haunches and bowed his head, trying not to throw up.
"Why'd ya shoot the bastid inna head! Ya could've spoilt ma trophy!"

The punch he landed on Marjulies' ugly yellow mug smashed his nose almost to a right angle. It was worth breaking two of his own fingers and the mocking laughter back at the Lodge when the trackers asked him which one of them had really shot the buff's tail off...

"First rule in the Pro Hunter's manual - follow up the client's shot PDQ and be prepared to say yours was the one that missed, if you want your tip."
"Did that awful man pay your fee after you broke his nose?" Eva's voice was a little faint with emotion and the shocked looks of admiration she was giving Harry were certainly more and more obvious.
"In a way yes, but I had to earn it the hard way - he pressed charges for assault and I got fined and banned from guiding in South Africa for eighteen months!" he laughed ruefully. "Still paid my fee though - I told the little squirt I'd counterclaim if he reneged and I wouldn't be telling the version he'd touted around the Lodge that night... It was a very good trophy though - one hundred and thirty-five inches from tip to tip, the long way around."

*************

"Sophie! Can you spare me a minute please?" She smiled at Jim, Eva's agent and third husband, who was also English and seemed rather too calm and studious for his lush and demonstrative wife.
"Of course, as many as you like. What can I do for you?"
"Don't laugh... I've run out of anti-histamine cream and I got bitten to death on that blasted walk with Harry 'I'm so bloody macho' Burton!" He put out a red bumpy arm as evidence for Sophie to admire. She dutifully examined it, but got the giggles at his comment.
"He is a bit full on isn't he, but I think most of these top guides are bound to put on the big white hunter act for the punters - it's almost obligatory. He does know his stuff as well - I loved his talk about the water hyacinths..."
Jim snorted and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right! And all the lovely minutiae about sodding Bilharzia as well. I'm bloody mozzie bait down there and he's banging on about ruddy worm fluke infested water-snails, snacking out in your bladder - I'm sure he did it on purpose! It's not that funny, Sophie!" He tried and failed to stifle a smile as Sophie's giggling became contagious. "You've got a really unsympathetic bedside manner, Doctor Taylor!"  He was laughing now as well as Sophie rummaged around in her bag for a spare tube of anti-histamine cream.
"Come on now - he did offer you a couple of squirts of his insect repellent!"
"When we got back, yeah! Fat load of good it's gonna do now! And bloody Eva's all over him, saying how 'caring' he is..."
"Oh, that's not fair Jim. I thought it was rather sweet of him, and anyway you still need repellent up here."
"I have some up here!"
"And it wasn't his fault that you forgot to put any on before you went out, now was it?"
"No - that was Eva saying to hurry up and not keep him waiting!"
"Or that you both overslept slightly." Sophie admonished him gently, though she was finding it very hard not to laugh out loud now.
"Well. He's got far too much to say for himself around her and I'm getting pretty fed up it, I can tell you! He even looks at me in that 'aren't I great' way when she starts going googly-eyed at him!"
Sophie pursed her lips and then spluttered, unable to repress her laughter any longer.
"Oh, Jim - why'd you think he's looking at you and not her?"
"Because he's a bloody sadist, that's why!"
"Because he likes you more, that's why. It was quite funny how he kept falling back to walk up here with you."
"Trying to justify bringing his bloody rifle out with him, more like! I mean, I ask you - like he needs to carry it around with him so near to camp. He only brought it with him to show off!"
She sighed and shook her head, though her lips were still curled up in amusement. "Actually he did need it, quite apart from it being part of his job when taking clients out, especially on foot. This is Africa, not Hyde Park...besides, didn't you hear that leopard in the night? He even showed us the paw prints down by the landing stage. But I forgot - you were hanging back again so you probably didn't hear him."
"I thought it was more crocodile crap he was pointing at." Jim had the grace to blush and finally Sophie decided to put him out of his misery.
"You know, you don't have to worry about him flirting with Eva at all. It's just his job to be pleasant and to entertain you all."
"Well I wish he'd stop staring at her the whole time."
"He isn't! I told you already - he's looking at you more than her. Haven't you wondered why there's no Mrs. Harry Burton?"
"Because he's shagging his rich lady clients and probably half of the bored hausfraus in Kariba Town as well?!"
"No." She felt she was going to burst controlling the giggles. "Because he fancies you, Jim." Why did you never have a camera handy for these classic moments?
"Oh!"

*************

"So, Harry - I can see why you'd have to carry a rifle whilst you're out with your hunting clientele..." Jim had been a lot friendlier since the morning walk and Harry sucked on his pipe, smiling lazily at him across the campfire, "... but why did you need to take one when we were just wandering around here?"
"To be honest, I'd be astounded if I had to use it in anger around camp Jim. But it's a good habit to have when you know there's wild animals about, as you just don't know what's watching you. In places where they have hippo and crocs nearby, it's not unusual for them to come into the perimeter - hippos more than crocs, especially at night when it's cooler, but it's too steep here for either of those away from the immediate shoreline of the Sanyati. Leopards would be a problem, except  they're smart and they don't tend to get close to camps like this, when there's a lot of people about, so on the busier paths you're perfectly safe, so long as you don't stray too far out of the complex. If you do get into a confrontational situation, then usually an overhead shot will do nicely to scare most beasts off. So long as you don't run - just stay still and don't panic, then slowly back away and keep going. Most animals won't go for you if you keep your head, but some are very dangerous and firing a warning shot to give them something to think about is a quick fix. Even lions or elephants will generally leave you alone then, but leopard, buffalo and baboons are notoriously unpredictable - they can be real buggers to scare."
"Baboons?!" Jim's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline and then he laughed "But they're just monkeys who go around in biggish groups surely."
Harry chuckled. "Ever got a good look close up at a male baboon's teeth?" he looked around at the others and saw Sophie was grinning already. "Their canines are enormous, bigger than a male lion's and every bit as sharp - lions won't hunt 'em either. The only predator they have trouble with is the leopard, and that's also the reason why leopards are so dangerous for humans too. They know the trick of how to kill an animal that goes about on two legs. They don't go for the throat first - they go for the body and eviscerate instead. To a leopard we're just bigger baboons and therefore a nice big meal as well..."

He let that sink in a little, for they'd all heard a male leopard around camp during the night and seen the spoor down by the landing stage on their little stroll. "But there aren't any baboons around here - most safari camps will try not to encourage them to settle too near or to tolerate them coming in 'cos they're menaces - get into the stores and even the guest accommodation - break stuff or take it if they think it's edible."
"It's a bit like all those warnings not to stop or leave your car windows open back in the safari parks in the UK  really - little devils'll snap aerials and windscreen wipers and try to get in the windows if they can."
"That's the sort of thing, Sophie - they're like the worst gang of vandals you can imagine and they're really strong and fast too. They have a pack mentality with opposable thumbs - not as smart as the great apes of course, but they're vicious brutes and ruthless with it."
"Chimpanzees and gorillas are meat-eaters though, aren't they Harry?" Eva was a tireless supporter and fund-raiser for a simian rehabilitation institute in Uganda.
"Yeah, although not gorillas so much, but neither of those species are found down here in southern Africa outside of zoos. You're going up to the Congo for gorilla-spotting after this aren't you? Or was that Zyanda, Sophie?"
"To Uganda, Harry," Sophie's voice was quiet and thoughtful somehow."  We’re not going to Zyanda."  Not on this trip, else she wouldn't be on it.  "But going back to carrying firearms in Africa, out of the townships it's not just the guides who go armed is it?"
"Certainly not, most farmers carry rifles as a matter of course, and have to  use gameproof fencing to stop all kinds of wildlife getting into the crops, or taking domestic animals. Rifles are essential really and woe betide you if you forget to take them out with you - and ammo too of course..."

... Carl'd had a bitch of a day and although the evening had made up for things a bit, he'd had to leave his mates back at the bar when his aunt had phoned the pub to say could he come back tonight instead of tomorrow morning. But right now he really was up sh*t creek, drunk as a skunk, no spare tyre because he'd used that on the blow out he'd had on the way into town and he'd gone and left his rifle back at the bar under his seat. At least that's where it probably was. He was a bit hazy on where he'd left it, but it was no use cursing himself over it - it wasn't in the truck and the truck wasn't going anywhere because he'd also run out of sodding fuel. He'd fouled up big time and he'd never hear the last of this for a year or more.

He was only about four miles from home... The moon was a day or so shy of full and so it was bright enough to see where he was going and his big solid torch was new if it got too dark in places.  And heavy enough to use as a makeshift club if he needed to swat anything away.  So of course he'd decided to walk the rest of the way, rather than stay with the vehicle and risk the ire of his uncle in failing to help him with the herd at dawn tomorrow.  If he'd not had so much to drink he'd have at least paused to consider his options, but he was tired, hazy and just wanted to get home and sleep it off, so, like an idiot he'd slammed out of the cab and stomped off up the road...

He'd been walking for about a quarter of an hour when he first heard them. They were ahead of him, but off in the bush, not on the road. It was just hunting calls he told himself and they were female, so they were probably after something else and game didn't like coming onto the road. Then he'd heard the terrified yelping of a bushbuck that cut off abruptly. The sound quashed the more mellow effects of his skinful of beer and suddenly he was stone cold sober and listening as hard as he could to what was happening up ahead, wanting to know how close to the road it had been brought down. He knew better than to go faster than a walk, so he kept going, glancing nervously off to the side, hoping not to see anything because it was too far off. Far enough off that they wouldn't be looking for anything for dessert too soon.

There were growling and slathering noises. They were close. Then came a much longer, more aggressive grunt and a brief snarling scuffle, as a male introduced itself to his worst nightmare.  A cloud that had briefly obscured the moon floated off and, out of the corner of his eye, Carl glimpsed two dark tawny shapes loping out of the depths of the brush, then slowing down to a softer, almost silent pacing through the undergrowth, still heading towards him.

The last effects of his beer began to make its presence felt with twisted glee, but Carl did his best to ignore it and walked on at the same pace, resisting the urge to turn his torch on the two lionesses who were padding along parallel to him about twenty yards away from the road. All he could realistically do was to keep going and try to keep his head, which was now painfully clear. Also to ignore the urgent signals coming from his achingly full bladder.

He kept telling himself that he'd be OK and just to keep going, not turn around and hope they'd lose interest. However, the need to take a leak was almost overwhelming, but still he attempted to stave it off, trying to think of other things to take his mind off the merciless pressure. He'd been through what Kipling he'd had crammed into him at school and was down to lists now. A-Z of male names; same for females; English counties and African countries then finally, in desperation he started on the states of America. That became his undoing as he decided to try that in alphabetical order and promptly landed himself in trouble in the C's wondering if DC was a county, or a state within a state like the Vatican... Before he could move onto the other D's after deciding that DC fell neatly into the equation as a D, even if that was for District, because Columbia came after Colorado anyway, he heard the sound of running water in a storm drain beside the track and passed the point of no return.

With no option but to obey the urge to start peeing, since it was now cripplingly impossible to resist any longer, he fumbled with his zip as quietly as he could, whilst still keeping up the pace. Too late. He'd started even before he managed to free himself from his Y-fronts, so he was already sopping wet and the bloody wind was blowing in his face too. The simple relief of emptying his bladder was momentarily worth it though, as the padding in the scrub beside the road had stopped...

Jesus! Thank you for that!
Carl was about to stop and turn around, when he heard the soft athletic thud of two sets of feline paws on the sandy road. The bloody animals were having a good sniff of his urine! Miserably, cooling clammy shorts clinging unpleasantly to his groin and thighs and tickling drips down his bare legs into his boots, he trudged on, hoping they'd not like his scent and give it up, but knowing his luck, he was completely buggered. Sure enough, pad, pad, pad behind him again and he thought they were gaining on him. Stay calm. Keep going. He was really starting to sweat now, but he knew he had to be within a half mile from the big meshed gates onto the farm and there was anyway no choice but to keep going now.

At first he thought he was hallucinating when he saw a flash of light ahead, but about a half minute later he heard the sound of a motor and got another glimpse of the spotlight mounted on the Land Cruiser, that promptly disappeared as the vehicle turned into a kink in the road which meant that he was nearly at the gates! Thank God for Aunt Helena! She must have realised he was overdue and come out to look for him. The road curved around too so he didn't see the spotlight, but he could hear the engine still and it was getting louder. A low growl from behind almost had him p*ssing his pants again, and suddenly his timely rescue seemed to disappear like morning mist as the gates came into view and the spotlight flooded the road, then doused altogether. The headlights went out too. Carl didn't know whether to laugh or cry now, but wisely remained silent and carried on walking. Helena's bushcraft was second to none and he sent up another heartfelt prayer. Please God let her have seen me. Please God let her have seen them.

He kept walking. The vehicle was bathed in moonlight and he saw the driver get out. Oh you beauty! She had a rifle with her. But why was she waiting? His answer came soon enough as he saw her raise the gun holding it up at an angle, but still she did nothing. Carl's nerves were completely shot now and he was about to scream at her to fire, when she spoke to him in a conversational tone, as though she was asking whether he wanted a biscuit with his tea.
"Keep walking, Carl. I'll fire overhead, but you'd better get to the side quickly if they stick around. Nod if you heard, lad." He nodded frantically and another, louder growl came from behind him.

Time slowed. He saw her aim high, the stock almost touching her chin and then gunsmoke. He squeezed his eyes shut. Then there was the crack of the shot passing harmlessly high over his head. A half second of silence, then an echoing snarl as he veered to the right, finally looking back at his tormentors. Both of them were turning on themselves, deceptively soft, tawny muscles bunching with the power of adrenalin and panic. Then his own instincts kicked in as he began to run as fast as they were, but in the opposite direction towards Helena and the Land Cruiser.

"Get off me - you stink to high heaven Carl!" He hugged his Aunt again anyway, but then pulled away and hung his head in shame. "I'm sorry Helena. Thank you so much for coming out - I was terrified!" She was laughing softly now and he joined her guiltily, feeling like an idiot.
"I gathered that. Silly boy - why the hell didn't you stay with the vehicle? I got the shock of my life seeing you in the road like that!"

*************

"Of course Cousin Carl ought to have stayed with the truck, but he wasn't too smart when he was sober, let alone when he was three sheets to the wind!" He laughed at the memory of Carl's ashen face when his father had got in the next morning, after spending an anxious night watching over the cows in the lower meadows close to the lake. "He got the bollocking of his life when Pa came back and he had his pay docked for the petrol in the end and two replacement tyres too, as Ma had to take the Cruiser back into Kariba Town the next morning. But I came out of it OK as I got to go in with her and then I was allowed to drive the Land Cruiser back when we'd fixed the truck. I was twelve and it was the first time I'd ever driven on my own. I fell in love with Cruisers that day and that's part of the reason why I wanted to be a Park Ranger and then a Guide, because they're such a pleasure to drive, even though they're tougher than hell - and, for a 4 by 4 they're comfortable inside too." He grinned at the others and started to fill his pipe again."  Talking of good drives, are you all set for an early breakfast tomorrow? There's rhino and elephant over on the west shore from Spurwing Island, so we can take the boat over. I have a vehicle there we can take out and have a safari drive along the foreshore for the rest of the morning. Then back in the boat to have a late lunch or afternoon tea over at Spurwing camp. We can come back to Sanyati for a mini cruise and have our sundowners, then home in time for a shower before dinner? You're frowning at me again, Jim - you don't think that's a good idea?"
Jim looked over at Eva a moment, then smiled slightly, "Sounds marvellous Harry, but I don't know about being out on the trail in the midday sun. Won't it get a bit too hot?"
"Mad dogs and Englishmen, not to mention fair skins, huh?"  Harry laughed. "It'll be OK, I promise. We'll have some cool winds tomorrow off the lake and my vehicle has a canopy so you'll have enough shade. The boat's loaded up with lots of drinking water so we'll be alright and the game viewing will be well worth a little sweat, if the wind does drop. Just make sure you get your camera equipment charged to the hilt tonight though, Keith!" Harry turned to look across the fire at Sophie. "And how about you young lady?  I can find us some of your wee little malachite kingfishers on the way back, but there's all different sorts of birds over on Spurwing - Goliath  heron and Egyptian geese, pied kingfishers and I know you said you love the ellies...?"
"Oh, go on then Harry - you've twisted my arm... I want my malachites though!"
Harry laughed and stood up. "I am a man of my word, Doctor! I'll see to it you'll get in close for some good photos as well - but only on condition that you lot are
very quiet."
"Better do that before the sundowners then!" Jim was laughing along with them as he and Eva stood as well "Well we're off now in that case - take it we'll get a knock a bit before breakfast Harry?"
"About half five, yes.  I'm ready for bed too, so I'll walk you both back up to the rondavels. Sleep well, everyone!"
Sophie's voice drifted over to them again as they began to walk up the steps "Don't forget to bring some sunscreen with you Eva!  And the repellent and anti-histamine Jim!"

*************

The rasping scream echoed all around the camp.
"Jim! Don't touch it! HELP!!"
This at least meant most people weren't getting out of their beds, as they knew Sophie and Harry were immediate neighbours to the movie star and her agent husband.

Harry got there first as he was already dressed (or rather he hadn't undressed), and his arrival caused more havoc as Eva was in her undergarments, huddled in a quivering foetal position on the bed. Jim was on the floor, completely nude, flicking his belt at something under the bed.
At the sight of Harry, Eva screamed again and flipped the sheet over herself then started sobbing.
"Oh, friggin' hell woman! Stop bloody stressing and keep still..."
"Morning, Jim. What've you got there?"

Sophie arrived in her dressing gown and flip flops in time to hear a soft thud as Jim's head connected with the bed-frame. Harry started laughing. More expletives issued from the floor as Jim's arm flicked his belt again and something small and black shot across the stone tiles into the bathroom.
"F*uck!" This curse came very faintly from Harry.
"Bugger!" Jim recoiled and leapt to his feet. "Where'd it go?"

Sophie just managed to avoid Harry stepping on her flip-flopped feet as he backed out of the doorway, his face white as a sheet."What is it, Harry?"
"Scorpion! Can't stand 'em!" 

"Oh dear!" She turned and screamed at Jim. "Stay put - it's a scorpion!"
"I
know that! Where'd the little b*astard go?"
"I'll tell you, but not until you put something on your feet. It could be poisonous!" Jim turned to face her, his jaw dropping.
"Better yet, put some pants on - and do it carefully in case it had a friend..."

... She found Harry stripped to the waist and finishing his shave.
 "Coast's clear now Harry. It wasn't a big one... I never had you down as an arachnophobe..." She tried hard not to chuckle. She failed, but only because Harry looked so relieved as he put his razor down.
"You're sure?  'Cos they're tricky little buggers and it could have hidden anywhere in that bathroom."  He blushed brightly, but met her eyes and tried to smile at her.
"I chucked it out of the bathroom window myself."
"Sorry. It hadn't stung Jim or Eva had it?"
"Nope! It was a thin-tailed one
[5] anyway, so it wouldn't have caused too much damage if it had. But maybe I'd better do the 'shake out your clothes and boots before you put 'em on' lecture again at breakfast? Or do you want to do it?" She began to giggle.
"Ha ha - very funny."  He was laughing anyway now, and wiped away the last of the shaving soap.  "I've lost credibility there somewhat, so you can take the honours my dear Doctor. Anyway - I thought arachnophobia was fear of spiders? They don't bother me at all by the way."
"Just as well - far more of them around and I'm not getting into an open top vehicle with you if you're phobic with them as well. All that tall brush and gossamer across the road... OK - I'll give them a rocket. As for arachnophobia - scorpions are arachnids too - eight legs, see."
"I wouldn't know - I've never kept my eyes open long enough to count the legs..."

Eva and Jim arrived for breakfast in time to miss Sophie's rather more strident admonitions on the advisability of checking shoes and boots and shaking out clothes before putting them on, especially if you'd already been wearing them the day before...
Keith was saying that he wasn't bothered about snakes, scorpions or assorted creepy crawlies so long as he didn't have to be around Jack the night after a real bender. Sophie laughed along with the others, except for Harry who was drinking his coffee over by the fire and looked over at them irritably. "It doesn't matter if you're not scared of the little buggers - they bite you and you're just as poisoned or even dead."
"Listen to Harry guys - he's had second hand experience of a bad scorpion sting and it's not at all funny." Sophie looked over at the guide sympathetically. "For a start spider bites and scorpion stings really hurt, even if they're not venomous. So be sensible and try to remember to keep your used clothing off the floor - boots too if possible so they're not so attractive to scorpions or snakes. One thing I do religiously with my boots is to stuff my dirty rolled up socks into them - I'm not going to wear them again and they bung up the way into your lovely warm and fragrant desert boots..."

Harry went over to Jim and Eva as they sat down to eat their fruit and yogurt. As usual, despite looking subdued and pale still, he came straight to the point. "Just here to apologise folks. Sorry I wasn't much help, but at least Sophie was about to sort you out properly."
"It's OK, Harry." Eva was also still very shaken and feeling empathetic, "I was really stupefied with fear when the little varmint dropped out of my pants. Won't you join us for a few minutes if you don't have to get the boat ready just yet?" Jim was chuckling, but he also nodded his own invitation and smiled warmly as Harry pulled a chair out.
"We were wondering whether it was the sight of us both naked and screaming our heads off or the scorpion that gave you the willies, Harry."
"Definitely the scorpion, Jim - I was enjoying the view until it decamped into the bathroom."
"Just as well you weren't there first off when the bloody thing scuttered out of Eva's trousers - I think I've got a couple of perforated eardrums from the screaming. Not that Sophie's being too kind about that of course."
"I'm sorry honey - but I was petrified."
"Pity your vocal chords weren't!" Jim gave her a comforting squeeze on the hand anyway, "But what's this about you having a too close encounter with one Harry?"
The guide made a face. "Long, long time ago. I was fourteen..."

Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t! Helena examined her hand minutely, although there was no difficulty in locating the puncture wound as her skin looked red and angry already.  Bloody sod's law that this would happen today with Wayne's mother flying in this afternoon.  She'd already killed the scorpion that had leapt on her from underneath the bed in the spare room as she was trying to sweep the dirt into the dustpan. She brushed the nasty specimen into the pan and stood up.
"Harry! Come here a minute."
"What is it? I'll miss the school bus, Ma!"
"This is more important..." She walked out into the hall as Harry came out of his bedroom doing up his shirt. "... I've been stung - can you look this thing up in your spotters’ book for me?"
Harry's eyes grew wide as he took the dark mangled head and torso with the unimpressive pincers and the relatively undamaged, wide, shiny tail carapace "Christ, Ma - I think that's a poisonous one!"

"She nearly died, despite doing all the right things. My ma was a really tough lady and bush savvy so she stayed very calm - but she had an allergic reaction. By the time I'd ID-ed the animal - it was a black thick-tailed scorpion, she'd had a bath and called for me to come with her to the hospital.  Her right arm had gone numb and she couldn't grip with her hand, so I had to drive her and she started having convulsions on the way. I was so scared I can't tell you..."
Jim was also looking pale now as it dawned on him what a vulnerable position he'd been in. "Bloody hell, Harry! No need to apologise, man. I'd have buggered off with you if I'd known!"
"You were so brave, honey. You're my hero!" Eva kissed him on the cheek, then stood up.  "I need more coffee - can I freshen your mug for you, Harry?"
The guide handed her his mug, looking a little bemused since she normally had Jim running around after her for such menial tasks. As she made her way back to the groaning breakfast table Jim smiled. "She's not that spoiled really - her parents ran a diner in Sacramento and she used to wait tables evenings and weekends."
"And here was I thinking she's got you well and truly hen-pecked."
"That's tinsel town for you - all show and posing outside! She's a sweetie really. You should see some of my other clients - the rock stars are hell on wheels compared to Eva. And I guess she loves me!" Jim tried not to look too self-conscious.
"Well, you'll be able keep cashing in on this for a good while I'd say. Ignorance is bliss, especially when you're facing a potentially deadly creepy buck naked!"
"Shush!" Jim started to laugh "I nearly fainted when Sophie told me it could be venomous and then asked if had it bitten Eva!"
"Heroism's overrated my friend - ignorance and adrenalin are far better allies when you're in that kind of situation!"

*************

Harry clapped his hands to get everyone's attention."C'mon folks - the sun's up and we need to get off now. You all got your sunscreen, insect repellents and bite creams, because this is your last chance to go get them until this evening..."
"Oops!" Jim turned and ran back up to the rondavel to fetch the day bag they'd left behind. The others had started to go down the pier when he came back at a trot, but Sophie was waiting for him.
"Sorry to keep you!"
"No problem, Jim" Sophie winked and patted him companionably on the shoulder.  "Nothing like getting back to normal to get over a shock so early in the day. Try not to frighten the living daylights out of Harry or I for the rest of it though..."
"So long as Harry concentrates on vertebrates, preferably mammals today I'll be good. I promise, Doctor Taylor!"



[1] Biltong - strips of dried meat, a little like beef jerky. In many people's opinion  Kudu meat makes the best game biltong, being rich-tasting and not too tough.

[2] Operation Noah - ran between 1960 and 1961 and was organised by game reserve warden Rupert Fothergill. Over 6000 large animals and snakes were moved to safety on the high ground as the Zambezi levels rose to form Lake Kariba.

[3] The top 5 animals that people want to see on safari. Lion, leopard, rhino and elephant are nearly always included on the checklist, with hippo, buffalo or cheetah making up the numbers depending on what's 'hot' at the time or where you're based.

[4] Dugga boy - Southern African slang name for irritable older Cape Buffalo bulls who are no longer in their sexual prime and have usually been forced out of the main herd. They tend to form in small groups with other old or immature males in similar circumstances for some measure of safety.

[[5] Thin tailed scorpions in Southern Africa are non-venomous to humans, though the sting is still painful. Their pincers are generally more impressive than their tail stingers and venom sacs. In the thick tailed scorpions the sting is toxic and in one variety found in Zimbabwe, the Parabuthus transvaalicus, can be fatal.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote Doughnut Jimmy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Sep 2010 at 8:35pm
Another great story Jano
The road goes ever on and on
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15 Sep 2010 at 8:24pm
I'm writing the next part now! Wink
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Sep 2011 at 12:12am
Bit more characterisation in these next two and keeping the safari storyline going so not quite so oppressive and I actually enjoyed writing them so hopefully it shows - Saranna thought it did and as usual she's done a great job with the editing! Kissie
 
Perfect Day

Just a perfect day, problems all left alone... you made me forget myself. I thought I was someone else, someone good...

© Lou Reed (1972 Album: Transformer)

Sophie’s Diary: Wednesday 3rd May ~ Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

What a day! It started badly when our wake-up call really was a bona fide alarm, with Eva screaming the camp down after a scorpion dropped rather grumpily out of her trousers, where it had been having a nice cosy snooze! So my day began with rather too much flesh on display (Jim's) and poor Harry unexpectedly wimping out on me because he's phobic about scorpions of all things! Anyway, I cornered the wretched arachnid (not poisonous thank goodness) when it fell into the sunken shower tray - luckily they have nice deep slippery ones here and I managed to grab the little brute by the tail from behind, then threw it out of the bathroom window. So glad they put the generator on here for early calls - I don't think I could have faced doing all that in the semi-darkness!
The rest of the day, which I had been dreading as always, was simply wonderful! Harry thoroughly redeemed himself and I don't think I've ever been out on a better safari drive. His pleasure in all the animals is so obvious - even Phil began to enjoy himself instead of fussing about Eva's hair the whole time. Kariba is just - words fail me actually. It's not dramatic like at Vic Falls, but it's just so beautiful - the colours of the water and the earth and vegetation with the red ochre Matusadona hills as a backdrop. Simply stunning. And we saw ellies swimming too! Whatever happens now on this trip and afterwards, I'm so glad I came out here. That'll please Claire and Youssef - the 'I told you so's' will be endless, but that doesn't matter anymore. I can't wait to get the photos downloaded - Keith did us a playback of his footage today before dinner and it's marvellous. So many smiles!

Harry laughed warmly as he turned the boat out of the gorge and into the pale pure sunrise, slipping effortlessly through the drowned, petrified skeletons of the leadwood trees. "Welcome to my world, folks!" The sun, blushing through the clouds like a showy tea rose was just pulling clear of the hills, with Spurwing Island looming towards them and he smiled gently back at Sophie as she turned slowly to him, her eyes shining with wonder at the dawn in her face. "It's magic time! Thank you Harry." Her voice was husky, barely audible above the motor and his heart went out to the doctor as her head went down for moment and a hand dashed away tears. He wanted to say something but hesitated, knowing something of her story from her sister and wondered what she was remembering, poor kid.

The moment passed as Jim turned and grinned at them "Looks like another great day in paradise!"
"It's so beautiful..." Phil's prissy LA drawl was softened in genuine amazement for a fleeting moment. "... such glorious colours - pink and aquamarine on the waters and in the heavens. It's biblical almost!"
"Finally, he sees it!" Eva laughed teasingly at her stylist, delighted that something had impressed him at last.
"Yeah, yeah - don't get used to it honey. I'll find something new to bitch about soon enough, don't you fret!"
"I got y'down on disk, Phil - what's it worth not to show you enjoying yourself to the 'girls' when we get back?" Gareth cackling away at Keith's dry comment drew a snort of contempt from Phil, but they were all used to the back and forth between him and the two cameramen now and far more interested in where they were headed as Harry steered them smoothly through the dead tree sentinels, then out into deeper water heading for Spurwing Island, shining in the soft dawn.

As they drew alongside the jetty, a couple of Mashona lads appeared out of nowhere and lots of smiling and nodding went on as Harry launched into a rapid Q and A in the local dialect. The consultation was brief and ended in laughter and friendly waving as Harry retrieved the painter and backed out, taking the boat into the western channel and they were on their way again.  "Well, we're all set up for a late lunch on Spurwing. They do some fantastic fish dishes, and I've got some snacks and cola in the coolbox for elevenses, so that should keep us going on a good hard game drive, guys."
"In this humidity I'm surprised at anything staying hard!" Phil's muttered comment got a laugh from Jim and he hugged Eva in the breeze as they picked up speed.
"Harry's promised us cool winds today Philip - keep your pecker up!"
"Hah!"

*************

"Do you see the ellies, Sophie?" Harry nodded towards the shore and handed the bins over to her. She could see them bare-eyed, dark against the red earth as they made their way down to the water, but put the binoculars up to her eyes and smiled "They have babies!"
"Well that's a great start for us then! Should be several calves with this group I think - some of those old girls are highly sought after!"
"Top elephant totty?" Sophie giggled and looked back at  him.
He grinned at her "Did you get a load of the ivory? Some of those cows are the daughters and grand-daughters of the Chura Bull."
Sophie smiled "A famous stud was he?"
"I'll say! He's dead now, but he was a big boy all over. Massive tusks - getting on for 11 feet long. Even starred in a movie with Clint Eastwood when he came out here on location in the late eighties - doing a movie about the filming of The African Queen and John Huston."
Eva and Co all turned round at this remark, eyes wide with interest and the next several minutes were filled with questions, which Harry answered cheerfully until they were getting close into the shoreline.
"OK guys, let's turn the volume down a bit and get a load of this herd - I think they're going to have a little water fun so we'll stay out here in case any of them decide to swim..."
The chattering died away as they all focussed on the group of females and calves or, in Phil's case, on the water patterns and the reed beds as he made swift sketches and notes on the subtle colours and shadows in the little notebook he always had on him. Sophie was glued to Harry's binoculars for a while as the boat idled slowly towards the huge, yet strangely vulnerable and gentle creatures. Finally the bins were lowered as one of the cows with a very young calf softly caressed her baby's ears and shoulders with her trunk and then nudged him on the rump slightly with a front knee, trying to encourage him down one of the shallower banks into the sparkling water. Again Harry, happened to glance at the doctor and caught more tears before she put her sunglasses back on. She was evidently taking pleasure in the scene so, once again he said nothing...

"Try to get back to sleep for a while, babe..." Tom kissed her hot cheek sweetly. His warm brown eyes looked at her with concern as she tottered back from the bathroom with a bottle of water. He sat down beside her on the bed and stroked her sweaty fair hair away from her face, tucking the strands behind her ears, then put his arm around her thin shoulders. "We're not going until after breakfast and I'm only doing the engine checks and filling up. I'm worried about you, Soph..."
"I'm fine - really!" she made herself smile at him, then took a quick swig of the water so he wouldn't catch the scent of spew. "Honestly - Terry said yesterday it's probably just another dose of the trots."
"I heard you throwing up, Soph." Tom's chiding was gentle and he pulled her closer, stroking her cheek and laying his head on hers. "And Terry's worried too. She's told Alma to give you a good check-up today, OK? You've not been right for weeks now - ever since we came back from Vic Falls."

Damn! Bloody St. Terry, the interfering cow... "I'm keeping the sodding fluids up! It's not as though I haven't had a dose of this before..." she trailed off, biting her bottom lip, afraid she would lose it and start crying.
"Not with being sick all the time as well, you haven't!  Oh, Soph... Look, I know you want to come with us, but we'll be doing some hard driving and you're just not up to it, babe. I'll be back before the end of the month, so you rest up and get yourself well. Mwanza's got some great shops, so I'll get you a really lovely ring and we can start making plans for going back home when I get back, yeah?" He got up and leant down looking into her tired eyes. "If you
promise to go back to bed after we're off, then I won't stop you coming with me for the checks, OK? Make a change for us to see the sun come up together, anyway!"
She got up as well and hugged him tight "I promise! Won't be a jiff!"

Tom smiled happily as she got into her shorts and a fresh Tee shirt at lightning speed.  He reached out for her hand as they made their way outside...

This day. That last day together, all those years ago and the sunrise had been as pure and golden as this... Sophie came reluctantly out of the memory, smiled and turned to hand the bins back to Harry. "Thank you!"
"Keep them a while - some of them are almost certainly going in to swim." Harry grinned at her but spoke in a near whisper. "I'll have to manoeuvre a bit so we're downwind and not too close to them - keep an eye on that big cow with the out-turned tusk, looking right at us now. She's the boss, so I'm going to back off a little more behind these leadwoods, so she doesn't  get too concerned about us. Pass the word down to the others - we all need to keep very quiet for a bit."

The garage canopies and fuel stores were down by the river under the fever trees. The river ran quite wide here past the township, but on the eastern shore it was still undisturbed and wild and there were several converging game trails that came right down to the waterside. It was Tom's favourite place in Vutare and even when he wasn't working, he was often down there fishing with the Zambian men and their children, or on his own, bird-spotting, before she met him.  She was into birds as well and so one day, not long after she'd joined the teaching support team, she had asked to join him and that was how they had fallen in love, so naturally and quickly.
That morning, in the half-light, before the sun had fully risen, a dozen or so elephants, cows and calves like these, were just coming down to drink. Tom watched them with her for a few minutes and then sighed and lifted her up onto the back of the truck. "Work time! Stay here and watch them some more love - I won't be long!"

What he meant was that he was doing an engine check to make sure there were no snakes or other small animals who'd decided to curl up under the bonnet or wheel arches overnight - she was terrified of snakes, so she made no protest and was content to keep watching the family ablutions across the water, as the sky gradually lightened and the clouds became edged with jewelled shades of peach and gold, above the eerie misting over the canopy of dark trees...

"Oh! How wonderful." Eva's voice was so breathless with excitement it was barely a murmur.
"It certainly is - be as quiet as you can still, people. The wind's shifting and we may have to back off soon." Harry's hushed warning was as light as the breeze and almost unnecessary, for they were all spellbound as the matriarch strode past the other cows and their young into the deep channel and disappeared altogether for a few moments, save for the tip of her trunk peeking out of the water. She was only about ten meters away and they could easily see her as she emerged, side on to them, water streaming away from her head and ears down her crinkly hide. Truly swimming now, for her shoulders and then her ridged back undulated across and just below the surface, almost like a gigantic dolphin, then again dipped out of sight altogether momentarily. Keeping the end of her trunk, snorkel-like, still visible out of the lake, she did this five or six times in succession before her feet evidently found firm ground and she rose, puffing water out of her trunk and mouth like a hissing kettle until she was standing steady again, with the water lapping almost up to her shoulders and mouth and shook herself enthusiastically, ears flapping wildly, diamond droplets spraying out in all directions. She had turned back towards her sisters and children and gave a massive gurgling snort, then slammed her trunk into the water again, making a huge splash as it dipped down and another, curling back in again towards her body as she scooped water onto her ears and short neck.

Time seemed to freeze as Harry held the boat motionless, making minute adjustments on the rudder so they didn't make too much noisy impact on the leadwood trunks, as the others drank in the sight of the huge cow having an obviously enjoyable bath. Another female, then two more, and finally one of the adolescent males all followed her across the deep water, onto the former hillock that now formed the lake bed, and the serious bathing gradually gave way to playtime, as they all splashed around each other. At last the spell was gently broken, as the original cow swam back to the bank, then turned and looked over very pointedly at the boat, her trunk held high and swaying slightly, trying to fix the unnatural scents of the engine and the creatures floating too close now.
"Time to go folks - she doesn't like our scent and they won't hang around too much longer."

*************

Harry opened up the throttle gently and reversed regally around a tree trunk then headed back into the channel, slowly increasing their speed as Sophie and the others still looked back for some final glimpses and last photo opportunities.
"Good?"
"Bloody marvellous, Harry!" Sophie had turned right around to face him, her face split with a huge grin as she finally gave him back his bins. He smiled back, his eyes holding hers in concentration.
"You OK today, sweetheart? You were looking a little sad earlier."
"I'm alright - just memories. Happy ones." A little embarrassed, she looked past him for a few moments. "They're all out of the water now."
"Yep - the wind changed and they don't much like people about. I keep forgetting that this isn't your first time on safari, but that's a rare sight even here - elephants swimming."
"I love them - always have. I'm glad we saw them!"
She was looking at him nervously now so Harry took a deep breath and decided to come clean with her. "You know what an old gossip I am - Claire told me that you might not be on top form whilst you were with me, so I got nosey as to why. She said that your fiancé died in May, several years back - out in Zyanda?" He stopped abruptly, as the doctor squirmed uncomfortably in her seat, though she did not turn away from him. Just as he was about to apologise for bringing it up she replied, her voice quiet and composed.
"It was on the Tanzanian border with Zyanda. The 3rd of May... that was the last day we were together. He was killed up there on the 15th."

The connection was a little crackly, but they could hear each other well enough.
"Nothing much to report on the journey really - we only lost one tyre and made good time once we crossed into Tanzania... Anyway - are you feeling any better, Soph?  Over."
This was so frustrating because she was longing to see his face, but she just had to tell him. "Not exactly better, but I'm feeling really happy.  Tom... we're having a baby! Over."
There was a crackle over the last bit and he frowned.
"Say again, Soph? Over." He could hear her laughing like a loon and shook his head at Terry who was sitting opposite him, waiting to talk to Alma.
"I'm PREGNANT! Oh Tom - I'm so happy!" She chuckled as she heard him whooping at the other end... "Over... Oh no! Wait a minute. Alma thinks I'm nearly two months gone! Hahaha!  Over now!"
" Soph! That's
fantastic! Hang on a moment... Just telling Terry - she says congratulations and that she's very relieved!" There was another loud crackle and Sophie broke through again.
"What was that? Never mind - we got pregnant at Vic Falls, I think!!! Over."
He laughed like a drain. "Well that'll make a good story for wetting his or her head - or the wedding! Which do you want  first? Haha!  I wish I could hug you. I love you so much, babe! Listen though. Terry thought you were showing signs of malaria - she's delighted for us, but says Alma should do some more blood tests, just in case, OK? Over."
Sophie rolled her eyes in annoyance.  Alma tutted at her.
"OK - yes. We'll check it out before you get back. Over."
"Erm - yeah you will. Look, I'm sorry, but I'll not be coming straight back to Vutare. The driver who was supposed to be taking Terry to Umbeke with the med supplies has come down with a whopping fever, so I'm taking her instead. Over."
"What?!! What did you say?!  Over."
"I have to take Terry to Umbeke - the only other driver's got a fever. It's only two or three days out of my way really, so I won't be that delayed. Over."
"Awww!" Sophie's eyes crossed and she poked her tongue out, resulting in more glares from Alma." Well I suppose it can't be helped. Alma needs to get on to talk to Terry, so I'd better go. Come back soon, you hear! I love you! Over."
"Ditto! I'm going into Mwanza later for that beautiful little ring! Can't wait for you to see it! Love you, babe - look after that little bairn! My bairn! Haha!" Another crackle at the other end. "Here's Terry now, Alma. 'Bye Soph! Over..."

"It was a long time ago now." She shook her head and smiled a little. "But I still miss him."
Harry nodded at her. "That was an awful time they had over there, though. It took a lot of getting over, I expect?"
"I'll never get over it - not really."
"Hell! I'm so sorry, sweetheart - that was a fatuous thing to say." Bloody idiot! he screamed inwardly at himself, his face flushing furiously. Sophie shoulders were shaking, but then she laughed out loud and shook her head at him.
"No, really - it's alright, Harry. How would you have known - it's hardly that common though is it? Even for Africa." A white dragoman[1] driver getting killed during a tribal genocide atrocity in a border refugee camp. Not common, just bloody terrible. "I wasn't there, but... it destroyed me. I was a mess for years afterwards."
He nodded, still angry at his stupid gaffe, but he'd seen times almost as bad during Zim's civil war and, as she seemed to not mind talking now, he motioned for her to come and sit next to him. The throttle was wide open now and he had no intention of continuing this conversation over the engine noise. The others were all nattering, or checking out the foreshore on the mainland so they had some privacy for as long as she wanted to off-load. He could at least listen respectfully.
"I lost someone - very dear to me, during the war here. I was in the police force then. There was a mine... But that Zyandan thing. Utter madness!"
"Good things came out of it. In a way. And I survived. Done things I wouldn't have, if it hadn't happened. But I lost so much."
"Talking helps a bit I suppose. But it doesn't bring them back." She nodded, twiddling with her hair.
"Did Claire tell you I'm going there to work - when this safari's over?"
"No...? To Zyanda?!" He was genuinely shocked. Sophie laughed again.
"Yeah - I'm nuts! Officially!"
"That's a hell of a thing, Sophie! Whatever made you decide to do that?"
"I was nagged into it mainly. By a very old and good friend. And other kind friends who forced me to see that my life wasn't over. That I could really make a difference for other people who were still suffering and in true need..."

"Oh, thank god!" Claire's words came out in a sob that rang through her skull. "Sophie - I was so scared!"
Her vision was blurry and when she tried to speak it came out as a garbled moaning. A coolness ran across her forehead and liquid trickled into her right eye, then down the side of her nose like icy tears. She squeezed her eyes tight shut and moved her hands floppily. When her eyes fluttered open again, Claire was leaning over her and arms were snaking under her shoulders and armpits from both sides of the bed. They moved her into a more upright position and Claire gently put a cup of water into her hand and helped her bring it up to her mouth.
"Take it slowly, darling." Claire's voice had firmed into nursing tones as she steadied Sophie's hands. She smiled benignly at her younger sister as a tiny tentative sip was taken and swallowed. "You've given us a real fright the last couple of days."
"My head hurts..." her voice was raspy. Claire took the cup from her and looked past her at someone on the other side of the bed.
"You went into a coma, Sophie dear. It was the malaria - and the shock too." Alma's soft Irish drawl floated in and Sophie slowly moved her aching head towards her boss and friend. One bleary look at Alma's strained, exhausted face and it all crashed in on her again. Someone was screaming. Hoarse and raw with grief and pain. Calling for someone who could not answer. Would never answer...

... "Alma had to give you a sedative, Sophie. Please don't try to talk yet. It's important you stay calm else you could slip back into the coma again." Claire's voice was muffled but she could feel her soft fingers stroking the back of her hand. Her hand hurt though and she must have winced.
"You're on a drip, darling. We just want you to be comfortable and quiet until you're a little stronger. You're going home, Soph. Back to Guildford - Mum and Dad are going to look after you, as soon as we know you're up to flying back."
"Do they know..."
"Hush, darling. Rest. Don't upset yourself."
"'M'OK. Just tired." She saw Claire open her mouth to protest again and flapped her hand dismissively and pressed on."Do they know about the baby?"
"Yes." Somehow Claire stopped herself from crying because, whilst her answer was true, Sophie still did not know why. She forced a smile onto her face and squeezed Sophie's other hand. "They can't wait to see you. They would have come out, but Alma's been wonderful and got me here so they don't have to travel at all."
"But my contract's not finished yet..."
"You've been really ill, Sophie. You won't be well enough to work for a long time." Oh hell, hell, hell! This was unbearable and she didn't even know she'd lost the baby yet... Claire's hand came up and caressed her sister's sunken, burning cheek . "Try to rest as much as you can. If I'm not here, Alma will be. OK?"
"Am I dying?" Her lovely blue eyes were anguished with fever and fear.
" 'Course not!" Claire's voice caught, but she pulled herself back and bashed on.   "You're going home, Sophie. You're going to get well again."
"For our baby. Yes!" Her lids came down and her breathing softened as she sank back into true sleep again. Claire waited until she was sure Sophie was asleep and then walked over to Alma's office in despair.

Alma was on the phone and motioned for Claire to take a seat while she finished. "Thanks,  Stefan. Sophie's sister's been  frantic here because her husband's going to be in America for another fortnight or more, so she has to get back to Harare for the kids..." Claire burst into tears at that point and Alma rose hurriedly and, still holding the phone to her ear and knocking some files off her desk in the process, came around to hug her tight as she finished the call. "What's the doctor's name again? Youssef...? OK... Yeah, I've never met him, but I know of him. That's perfect almost. Thanks so much for setting that up. Bye now!"
She hugged Claire with both arms and smiled broadly. "Don't worry anymore - Stefan's sorted it. One of our doctors was going back to London the day after it happened, but he postponed because he's a close friend of the Zimmermans." Claire looked at her blankly. "The couple who tried to help Teresa and Tom at the camp. He's been up to Tanzania to help them and the refugees, but he's flying back to Lusaka tomorrow and says he'll escort Sophie back to Heathrow himself when she's able to travel. He's called Youssef Jettou - he used to be a field surgeon but these days he heading up our Staff Welfare and Medical Assessment group. I don't know him personally,  but he's got a terrific reputation and I'm sure he'll look after Sophie like she's his own daughter."
Claire nodded numbly and wiped the tears away. "She was asking about the baby, Alma... I couldn't tell her."
"That's OK. It's alright, Claire. That can wait until we've got her properly stabilised. She has enough to take on board for now. I can tell her if it's too hard..."
"No... No. It's alright Alma. I'll do it later on, when she's stronger."

*************

He was lost for words now. She wasn't crying, but the silence was tense. Finally he had to break it. They were getting close to the southern shore of the lake.
"Nearly there. We may have to pass on the rhino, but the guys said there's a good-sized herd of buff not far from where the Land Cruiser is."
"Your favourite!" She laughed, remembering his story about the trophy bull.
He chuckled with her. "They are really - when I can keep my distance and don't have a git client to look after. For grazers they're bloody smart and mean as hell with it - just as well they aren't carnivores, else we'd be in real trouble!"
"Them and the elephants!"
"Doesn't bear thinking about, does it? A predator with more than half a brain! I'm happier facing down a lion, or hyænas, that's for sure!"
"Leopards too!"
"No..." He smiled wryly. "Leopards are solitary hunters and strong as a hyped up heavyweight boxer. They're bloody ruthless and if they're coming at me ever, then I shoot to kill. Never take chances with buffs, ellies or leopards." He was chuckling, but Sophie knew he meant it.

As they were chatting they'd again been slipping past the ubiquitous skeleton trees and the others were beginning to get their things together as Harry slowed the boat and neatly curled the painter around a mooring post on the narrow little jetty that poked out into the lake. The foreshore looked to be deserted aside from birdlife and Harry's open-top land cruiser, parked about 15 metres away from the jetty. They could hear the cape doves monotonous cooing in the rising heat as Harry secured their mooring and reached for his rifle.
"Wait!" The guide called out softly to Gareth who had stood up, hefting the bigger of the cameras over his shoulder, ready to get off. "Me first, guys - you can't see everything from water level and this isn't a busy camp mooring, so the animals are more relaxed here and we could spook 'em."

He put his hat on, pulling the strap toggle tight and stepped onto the jetty, scanning the bank and foreshore ahead, to both sides and then to the borders of the brush and mopane trees. He looked back at his charges and gestured for them to disembark, but frowned at Phil. "Lose the cap, Phil - I've got a spare khaki hat, if you haven't got one." The stylist's head was aglow in bright cerise and  he pouted mightily "Alright, already! For fuck's sake - that gorilla's got no style at all!" He muttered crossly to himself as he burrowed into his silver and black backpack. "This do you, Tarzan?" as he tied a green camouflage patterned scarf around his shaven head.
"You look adorable, Jane - and gorillas hate pink that much they'd pull your head off!"
Sophie winked at him as Phil put his hand out to help her onto the jetty, "It's alright - no gorillas in Zim, Phil... There's buffalo around apparently though - they don't like it either!"
"Why is this friggin' place so butch!" Phil moaned theatrically, then winked back at her and sashayed off the jetty behind the rest of them.

They all piled onto the Land Cruiser willy-nilly as every seat had an excellent view, being tiered so the back row was tallest and the front the lowest.  Harry started laughing as Phil chose to go on the back with Gareth and Keith, despite the amount of equipment they had. "Hey, Jane! How are you with cobwebs? You're likely going to get a mouthful of them up there - I'll be the first vehicle through the brush this week, so the wigglies will still be floating across the mopane..." Harry broke off, unable to hold back on laughing at Phil's horrified face.
"Is Tarzan making sport, Doc?" Phil rolled his eyes like a pro. He might love his creature comforts, but he wasn't particularly faint hearted except for dramatic effect. Sophie chuckled. "Don't think so, Phil. Here - we can make room for you in the middle anyway."
"Little one coming through!" Phil trilled happily as he stepped over the seat back after Gareth kindly unhooked his foot from a holdall handle.
"Sophie - you come and sit up front with me if you want. Little Jane's been overdoing the eggs benedict this morning!" Harry winked as she climbed onto the front passenger bench, while Phil squealed and tutted at the vicious, but justified slur, then turned back to hiss at Gareth. "What the hell have you got in that bag anyway?! It's like a friggin' ball and chain!"
"Never you mind, boyo. You'll find out later on!"

Harry drove off slowly into the brush and onto a sandy well-worn trail that hugged the foreshore for a little before dividing north-west and east. He took the east fork still within sight of the lake occasionally and also heading back to the Sanyati river.
 "Looks like the luck's in - been more ellies along here recently, so not too much gossamer across the track!" Harry shouted back to Keith and Gareth. "I'll give you a yell if it looks like you'll get a face full of spider, OK?"
"Ta, Harry!"
He grinned over at Sophie, who was leaning back in her seat looking relaxed and happy. Strands of her fair hair were escaping from under her battered straw pith helmet, which was held on with two grubby string ties and her collarless green khaki shirt was billowing in the cool breeze of their passage. "I'm enjoying their company very much! Keith was using one of their mic' poles yesterday on the water to shift a monitor lizard! Never thought movieland bods were so  inventive."
"I think they go into all kinds of rough territory for Jack - Keith's probably seen worse wildlife back in Moss Side, mind you!" Jim chipped in as he leaned forward for something in his camera bag and grinned at Sophie briefly. Harry lifted his eyebrow ironically. "Moss Side?"
Sophie laughed. "Deepest, darkest Manchester. Drug barons, that kind of thing."
"Ah, right - I knew there was some reason why I prefer the bush... Your side, Keith!" Harry steered off to the side slightly so the hand-sized spider wouldn't get whacked too much.
"Tom would have definitely agreed with you on that, although he came from Bolton not Manchester! He loved it out in Zambia..." Sophie broke off as Harry slowed to a crawl, leaning over the driving wheel and looking off to the right into the brush. As they came to a halt, engine still running, Harry slid back and stood up on his seat as he brought his binoculars up to his face looking through gaps in the dusty foliage. Grinning now, he put a foot on the top of the door, jumped down onto the trail and took a few paces back towards a pile of dark grey-brown droppings about the size and shape of a yellow turnip. Squatting, he felt for heat and softness and his grin lengthened as he stood again and banged the side of the Cruiser, shouting up to Gareth and Keith to unstrap the canvas canopy and pull it over the roof-frame.
"Little help here, chaps!" Harry smiled broadly at Jim, Phil and Sophie as he opened the driver door this time, and again stood on his seat. "That's it - just keep it straight over the cage and then get the sides strapped up around the supports." It only took a couple of minutes to get themselves a good sturdy canopy and then they were on their way, buoyed up by the news that they'd see rhinos today after all.

"Buffalo first though, huh?!" Harry was still grinning, in his element as they picked up speed again. "This is a big herd and they'll be down in the creek this time of day, so it'll get a little bumpy, OK? Hang onto the straps, or the poles if you're getting too jolted."
"Won't it be too marshy for the vehicle?" Sophie was also smiling, as though at an in-joke.
"Nope - water levels have fallen again last couple of days down here and we don't have to cross any feeder streams. You'll have more trouble with the dust and the flies!"
"Oh, good!" This came from Jim, but he was laughing as well. "I thought we'd see hippos and lots of mud flats this close to the lake, Harry?"
"We'll see them better from the boat on the way back - this is water meadow territory now... Get your cameras ready!"

Harry turned a corner and halted briefly after cresting a hillock that brought the lake back into full view almost. They could see the large herd of dark buffalo through the thinning trees as the vista opened up before them. "OK guys - I'm going to try and keep the revs down where I can, but we need the 4-wheel drive in case the ground's too waterlogged, so we also need to keep the chit-chat down low when I douse the engine. You'll get some great photos as close in as I can get us. We're downwind, but they have good eyes and hearing too and they can be very dangerous if we annoy them, so we need some hush!"  So saying he drove into the long grass. The wind off the lake blew the smell of warm earth and dung mingled with green watery smells towards them, but it also helped keep the noise of their approach to a minimum, so they were already taking some distance shots when they all, even Harry, sucked in their breath in wonderment. The buffalo had seemed oblivious to them but then, one by one, the closest cows looked over towards them and suddenly hundreds of snowy egrets, that had been mingled in amongst the herd on the ground, or even standing on the mud-caked backs of the great bovines, almost simultaneously rose into the air and drifted slowly upwards like feathery balloons. The white birds weaved in outward spirals on the breeze, effortlessly floating over the curving horns of the buffalo like white thistledown; and then as gently descended back into the lush tall grass and promptly busied themselves with catching frogs and insects once more, or went back to work on the buffalo, with the ox-peckers, searching out juicy blood-rich parasites.
"Beautiful!" Eva's hushed whisper was echoed by Keith and Phil. Harry, who had stopped and turned the engine off as soon as the birds had taken off looked back and grinned at them all.
"Now you know why they call them snowy egrets - looked just like snowflakes didn't they? I'm glad you all saw that - it doesn't always happen, but it's breath-taking, huh?!"
"Yes. It always is. Like it's the first time." Only Harry heard Sophie's comment and didn't press her because once more she was lost in another memory, in another land.

How many times had they watched the egrets down on the river rising out of the trees, swirling and circling out over the water and up, up again, to float lightly back onto their perches like huge dandelion 'clocks'? Tom had laughed when she'd first made the analogy and it had been an in-joke with them ever since. Now here she was in the departure lounge in Lusaka and there were the egrets floating up out of the marsh into the sky after a Boeing had just roared past them, brakes screaming in reverse after landing.  But this time there was no one to ask her how many 'o'clocks' she could see. The tears were hot on her face as the last of the birds descended back into the reeds.
"I know it's a big cliché, but don't try to hold back the grief, Sophie." Youssef's clipped public school English was gentle as she used a soggy tissue."I'm not. I'm just fed up with crying all the sodding time." The words came out more petulantly than she'd intended and she felt herself flush spectacularly. Her already heated cheeks must have been blotchy as hell. "I... I'm sorry. You're very kind, but I don't want to talk right now." And down they bloody came again. "I'd better go buy some more tissues..." she mumbled ungraciously, but Youssef's hand was on her arm pressing her softly back into the plastic seat. "I'll go get them for you and get us some more coffee. That was our plane landing I think, but we'll have enough time before they call us to board."

He'd come back and not said a word as they both slowly sipped at the hot aromatic local blend that came in those horrible foam cups with the silly plastic tops with slots for a stirrer. She was feeling chilled again and held both hands around the container, taking comfort in the last heat of the coffee, shivering just a little.
"Here, child." Youssef put her jacket around her shoulders and looked over at the information board. "They'll be calling us soon I think, so you might want to put that on when you finish your drink. They usually have the air con going full tilt on the plane."
She nodded mutely, but made no effort to talk for now. This was not how she'd imagined going home. It was too soon for one thing, except that really it was far too late because Tom wouldn't be with her. She looked down at the coffee sloshing about the bottom of the cup, trying hard to hold it steady when two firm hands enclosed hers and stayed her trembling, then took the cup from her altogether and put it on the little table in front of them. "Up you come now." His voice was soft as he reached out to help her stand and put her jacket on, then put his arm around her and lowered her back into the seat. He sat down as well, still holding her gently and let her put her head on his shoulder and cry some more as her head pounded with the fever. "Not quite time for your medication, but I'll get the steward to bring us some water as soon as we get on board, so you can settle down and sleep for a while."
"Sorry. I don't want to make a fuss."
"You're not. They know you're unwell and need to keep your fluid intake up. You just do as the doctor orders, hmm? Not everyone gets the personal Jettou in-flight service y'know." He smiled down at her. "I can never read books on planes and their movies are always tiresome, so I get very bored on long haul. Looking after you will give me something to do. If you're a very good patient I may not have to tell you my life story..."

What would she have done without Youssef that day, when she thought she had turned her back on Africa for good?

*************

"Are you ready for the main event now?" The cameras hadn't clicked for a while and Harry was good at assessing boredom thresholds in mixed 'specialism' groups. He knew that Keith and Gareth were itching to use the little toy they had in their heavy holdall and that the buffalo herd just weren't cutting it on the cinematography front now they'd settled back into ignoring them thoroughly. Phil and Eva were getting fidgety too, though Jim was still peering about with the bins and Sophie was off with her own strange thoughts. High time to go really, if only to stop her brooding too much.
"Yeah! Rhino time, Harry!" Gareth remembered to keep his voice down still and Harry grinned to himself again, pleased with the way the cameramen were really getting into the wildlife and environments. He turned the key, slipped into reverse and moved off as quietly as they'd come in and back onto the trail again, still following the spoor he'd found there earlier. They picked up speed for a mile or so and then turned off road and headed inland and uphill slightly, the terracotta Matusadona Hills wavering over the trees ahead of them in the midday heat haze. The brush was patchy and he knew that there was a small clearing up ahead which just might... Yes!

He cut the engine and coasted to a stop in the dappled shade of some taller acacia, thankful for the cover as the lake wind was lost to them in the interior. The tree shadows and the land cruiser canopy would also help to keep their visibility down from the two poorly-sighted cows, because again they'd struck gold.
"Very, very quiet this time, guys. You're really fortunate - these two are sisters and they..." he kept his head towards the dusty grey shapes nibbling quite delicately on the leafy browse, but his eyes were darting around the deeper, lower cover and he stopped talking for a moment, not wanting to scupper the luck. Catching sight of a muddy snub nose with the tiniest horn through the leaves, about six feet away from the rump of the furthermost adult cow, Harry gave a low chuckle and finally turned to the others. "You see the one on the left? Look back into the brush behind her. Can you see the little horn...? It's a bit stubby, right?" Gareth and Keith were on it already and Jim suddenly stiffened and was tapping Eva on the shoulder. "Now don't point or wave your arms around please. They have poor eyesight, but they can pick up on sudden or unusual movements and their hearing is excellent." Satisfied that the wind was again in their favour and nobody was going to get over-excited, he went on in a 'carrying' whisper. "Like I said these two girls are sisters and they're quite unusual in that they stick together a fair bit, but the best thing is that they both had calves about two months ago and... yes, there she is. Isn't she sweet?" As he was speaking the baby rhino tottered out into plain view and promptly attached herself to her mother's teat, burying her blunt little nose into her side. "Try not to bash the motor drives too much and one at a time please, else they may take exception to our presence. And here comes number two calf - little boy this one." Again he paused as the others focussed on the newcomer, who also made a beeline for mum, proceeding to rub himself against her foreleg almost directly opposite Eva.
"Ohhh! Harry?" Sophie stirred softly in front of him, looking back into the thicker browse again. Harry smiled to himself as the adolescent cow trotted out into the clearing. "That was going to be my surprise! Here comes the little girl's big sister! She's nearly three years old. If she'd been male then she'd have probably been 'encouraged' to leave by now, but like I said these two ladies are quite sociable and so she's still tolerated by mum and her auntie. She's been shaping up as quite a nice little nanny to the two babies, so she might stick around for a good while yet."
"When will she be old enough to fend for herself?" Jim's voice had a smile in it too.
"She could manage well enough right now, but unless she starts getting stroppy with the little ones she could stay with the group for a year or more. She'll be ready for her first boyfriend in about two years time I should think and so she'll definitely leave them around then, when she comes into season. But after that she might come back for extended visits with her ma - I hope so because these rhino really are in trouble as a species and greater socialisation always helps in the survival stakes."

A hush fell on the party as they watched the little family moving slowly around the acacia grove, the tiny calves both nursing whenever their mothers stopped to strip leaves off the shrubby  mopane and thorny scrub. The teenaged calf seemed to be more interested in nuzzling her little sister, but eventually started to browse as well. Harry was watching the group intently when he looked back at Keith and Gareth who had started to fish around in their mysterious holdall. Gareth looked over a little guiltily. "Will it be OK, Harry? It doesn't make much noise unless we run it fast."
"I'd be happier if you left it for another five minutes chaps. Let them settle - they may even lie down in the shade over there now the sun's right up."
"You're the boss, Harry. Promise we won't scare them and let it get too close."
"What are they up to now?" Sophie whispered the question that the other three wanted to know the answer to and Harry laughed quietly.
"They've got a remote control camera mounted on a little carriage that they want to try out. Wait until you see what they've done to camouflage it! So funny!"
"Will they scare the rhino?" Phil rather surprisingly joined the conversation. "Can't they get pretty aggressive if something upsets them, especially with babies around."
"It should be OK, Jane - they tried it out yesterday afternoon down on the beach where it's sandy and it's pretty quiet so long as they don't make it scoot around too fast or get too close. It's hot and they'll all be looking for a siesta about now... and to be frank rhinos aren't too blessed with imagination, so I doubt they'll take much notice."

They were all having trouble trying not to giggle as the mobile baby boulder trundled at barely a snail's pace towards the cow who had two calves. They had fortuitously settled nearest to the land cruiser and where the terrain was relatively flat and free of obstacles and were side on to the safari group, so it couldn't have been more perfect for the boulder-cam's first proving run.
"Wasn't there something like this on one of the UK wildlife docu-series a few years back, Keith?" Jim asked as he came around the back of the vehicle after setting the remote control camera on its way. Gareth had put the monitor where Keith had been sitting on the back seat so the others  could watch the visual feedback whilst he operated the console, guiding the fake boulder towards the sleepy rhinos.
"Yeah - but this one's state of the art. It can switch to caterpillar track like a tank, or standard wheels depending on the terrain and its little motor can be set to 'silent-mode' when it's on battery. The downside is it doesn't take much of a charge, so this is ideal to test it out in field conditions."
"Impressed with the silent running, guys - you ought to be able to get it within a few feet of them so long as they don't get too interested in a trundling rock!" Harry was keeping an eye on both the mothers who were looking relaxed, but not too inclined to go to sleep.
"It's got a good zoom so we won't push it right under their noses - don't want them to freak and squish it." Gareth was enjoying himself with the controls and decided to angle in towards the sleeping baby girl who had her chubby chin propped up on her mother's foreleg, so they could see the stub of her nose horn and the little bump where her posterior horn would grow a few inches behind it.
"Try switching to the zoom now, Gareth - the wide angle's not really needed with it right out in the open like this."
"Right-o, Keith... whoops! Sorry that's the fish-eye... there!"
"Oh! She's adorable!" Eva was fascinated as the monitor screen filled with the baby rhino's face even though the trick boulder was still about twenty feet away. "Is her skin really that rough, Harry?"
He laughed softly. "Not quite. That's mostly mud where she's been rubbing it down at the salt lick, but they do have very tough hides, even when they're infants."
"Still not very black - but then white rhinos aren't really white either, are they?
"Nope. It's wijd rhino in Dutch - meaning wide. The white rhino's got kind of a wide squared-off upper jaw, because they're grazers primarily. They're almost like a lawnmower sometimes! You can see this baby's got a pointy, beak-like lip really well now - when she's weaned it'll get progressively more flexible, almost prehensile, like a stunted elephant trunk, to help with grabbing leaves and seed cases. Next time we see them eating, have a good look at their mouths with the bins."

*************

An hour later they were on the way back to the boat, having had quality rhino and boulder-cam time and a few colas to toast the slumbering giants. But just as they came back to the turn in the trail for the jetty Harry jumped on the brakes slightly and sharply diverted to the far side of the tree line that came down to the foreshore, looking over into the lower boughs and slowing as they drew near the canopy, where they could see long gourd-like shapes hanging down from the higher branches.
"Behold the sausage tree! Otherwise known as Kigelia Africana,[2]  or better yet, 'the maiden's prayer ' tree - for obvious reasons!" he paused for the mandatory tittering. "The only species in its genus, and only found in Africa. I won't go under it, 'cos its sausages look about ready to drop and they bloody hurt if they hit you, but also..." He turned and grinned broadly at them "what d'you think of that very long, thin, spotty sausage hanging down over there?" He nodded towards one of the lowest branches that hung out almost at right angles to the trunk, shaded by the upper leafy boughs and more sausages. They all looked in the direction he'd indicated and, almost to a man, went for their cameras, except for Phil who simply whistled in admiration. "Well hellooooo, leopard lady!" and then grabbed his pencil and started scratching away in his notebook like a demon.
"Guys - she's a pro and will pose quite happily for close-ups. Just don't get too animated, else she'll go higher up and sulk at us from a distance."
"You know her then, Harry?" Sophie asked, smiling broadly.
"Oh, yeah! She's Moll - after Moll Flanders. Quite an adventuress she is, but she's getting on now and loves her afternoon naps down by the lake. This is her favourite tree. She's usually higher up, but if you look, you'll see there's no sausages above her? They've already fallen, see."
"Damn, Harry! Why didn't you bring us here first?" Keith growled.
"Because you already have those great shots you showed me last night of that leopard and her two cubs up in Kafue. Moll's retired anyway and the black rhinos are almost 'last chance to see' these days. Always be plenty of leopard around - they're survivors. She's certainly photogenic, I'll grant you that, even though she's an old tart! She won't budge from here, so fill your boots for five minutes and then we'll get off. I'm ready for some lunch!"

*************

"So... are we going to be allowed to have a look at your sketches then, Jane?" Harry and Phil had continued their acerbic role-play assignments all the way back to Spurwing, but the needle factor had waned somewhat in the sultry heat and now they'd had a very good lunch and were lounging under the fans in the bar overlooking the lake, they were all chatting contentedly about the day so far.
" 'Course you can, Tarzan. No charge!" Phil slid his notebook over to the guide and went back to his rum and cola with a mischievous glint in his eye as Harry started to leaf through, idly at first and then really intently, forgetting all about his pipe that he'd been puffing on since they'd finished eating. "These are really excellent, Phil - and I've seen some great wildlife artists rough work in my time, but..." he trailed off and quickly looked over at Sophie who was deep in conversation with Eva and the others, leaning over the balcony rail admiring a pair of goliath herons down by the jetty. "... I'm not sure if Sophie'd thank you for this one though." Harry moved his chair closer to Phil, lowering his voice and pointed to an exquisite little study of Sophie looking sad, chin cupped in her hand when they'd been looking at the buffs.
"Well, no. But I'm letting you see it, not her. I couldn't resist and she was much more interesting than the buffalos. She's been through some tough times, I'm guessing?" Harry nodded but didn't say anything more. "It's alright - I'm not fishing. But she's been up and down all day and I got intrigued from afar whilst you two were having your serial tête à têtes."
"I can see. You've caught her mood very well." Harry moved on more hurriedly now, feeling rather awkward, but then slowed again as Phil's focus switched back to the wildlife. "These ones of the baby rhinos are wonderful."
"Well, Gareth's monitor helped a lot there."
"You have a very good eye for detail, even so."
"All in the job description Tarzan, darling. I'm not a top stylist by accident! I've won awards I'll have you know!" He winked theatrically and Harry chuckled.
"Have you now?! So you're not all permanent waves and highlights then?"
"Sauce! You've been about us enough to know I don't just do Eva's hair. I trained in set design and I have a fine arts degree and a masters in art history."
"Well it certainly shows in these sketches. Seriously - I think they're first class. Do you paint as well?"
"Not any more, no. I can't be as good as I want to be and the fine art world's a real bitch if you're not on top of your game - I should know after all! My analyst would be a billionaire if I had to sell my art for a living. Strictly a hobby this kind of drawing, but it comes in useful for work as well. My other half's an art director - now he really is the family genius! Regular Michelangelo."
"Your eyes met over a crowded prop room?" Harry was back on his pipe again, grinning through a swathe of smoke. Phil waved his hand fussily, but laughed. "Make that a rock benefit, but yeah - we met on set."
"Somehow I didn't think Tarzans were your type, Jane."
"Damn right! Jungles play merry hell with your skin, although I suppose the humidity's good for the pores... Oh, to hell with it." Phil sighed and motioned to the barman "Two more beers here when you're ready, Solomon!" He turned back to Harry with a slightly embarrassed grin "Ice Cold in Alex
[3] had its moments and if Sylvia Syms can do it, so can I".
"Man - you are priceless!" Harry roared with laughter. "... and only a beer will get Matusadona dust out of your throat. So you like old British war films too?"
"What's not to like? I lurve upper crust men doing what they gotta do, and to hell with the gals! Plus I hate being stereotyped, though I will admit to liking Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And listening to Judy Garland, naturally."
"My ma looked like Joan Crawford. Could shoot like John Wayne did in his films though."
"Adorable! She sounds like quite a lady. Is she still with us?"
"Nope. Hell - I'm only just the right side of sixty!"
"Too much in-for-mat-ion!" The beers arrived in bottles and they lapsed into silence as they poured them out.
"So are you enjoying this safari against your better judgment ? No offence intended, but aside from these extraordinary drawings, you weren't giving off too many happy vibes up until today."
"All a performance, Tarzan. We Hollywood types can't help ourselves half the time don't you know?"
"Bullsh*t!"
"Quite!" Phil took several long pulls of his beer. "My, that's good! No bullsh*t. This isn't something I think Eva should be doing, but she wanted me along, so I came because she's my best friend for real. That, and to make sure that Jack doesn't mess with her head too much."
"But he's not even here? And surely Jim can look after her? Wait - Jack is her ex, isn't he?"
"With bells on, yeah. And believe me, he doesn't have to be on the same continent to screw Eva around. Jim's not bad at heading him off at the pass generally, but he fancies himself as a Hemingway type, so he wasn't about to pass up on this little trip once Eva had expressed an interest in taking the part."
"She's really excited about it I thought? Is it not certain she'll be in the film?"
"Oh, she'll do it in the end and be brilliant in it, but Jack'll make triple sure she is. That's the trouble. He pushes her around way too much and... let's just say I don't like blood sports of the gladiatorial persuasion and Jack always bleeds her white to get an 'authentic' performance out of her. Did you ever hear the stories about Katharine Hepburn when she filmed African Queen with Huston?" Harry shook his head. "Well she got really sick while they were on location and had to have a bucket to vomit into between takes - hell the whole crew were throwing up out in Uganda except for Bogey, and that was only because he was drinking whisky non-stop instead of water!"
"But that was back in the fifties. Things are a lot better these days and even sleeping sickness isn't too bad if someone's otherwise fit and healthy. Besides, I thought there wasn't going to be that much location work?"
"Ever heard of method acting? Eva takes all that crap seriously and really she needs to focus on other stuff right now... It's up to her anyway, but Jack is always a bobby to her eventually and yet she still idolises him, even now."
"They've made some fantastic movies together, haven't they?"
"Sure." Phil shrugged. "But you don't see the cost necessarily. Let's say if I was married, I'd want my husband to be a little more concerned for my emotional welfare, even if there was the possibility of an Oscar. That's why I came along, to make sure she remembers why she divorced the rat, and also that an Oscar won't kiss you goodnight - or hold you when your world falls apart. She hasn't signed yet, you know."
"Ah - so this trip is a sweetener then?"
"Of a kind, yes. Sorry. It's been great with you and what you've shown us today is amazing, but this is a vacation with a sell your soul clause and she has other things she wants to do with her life. She doesn't need this role to do them, and she has nothing to prove anymore for this kind of movie after the Red Dust remake."
"I preferred the original - that Mary Astor was beautiful."
"Gable was better! The machismo..."
"Well I'm just glad Gary didn't have his halitosis problem for the smooches..." Eva chuckled as she left Sophie and the others to their bird-spotting and joined them. "Can I have a sneak look at your sketches too Phil?"
"Sneak away honey - you don't have to ask."

The movie star, obviously familiar with Phil's work flicked through a little more quickly than Harry had, but then rewound and ended up on the same little sketch of Sophie that Harry had worried over. "Did he break her heart do you think, Harry? You were talking about someone very intensely back on the boat." The famous dark blue eyes were aglow with curiosity.
"I don't think he ever did that. Maybe it would have been better if he had. It's sort of a sad anniversary today apparently. We haven't really talked much about it - very private and sad, but her sister told me to try and keep her spirits up when I was with you all. That's all you're getting out of me though ladies - my lips are sealed from this point onwards. Mainly because I don't know the details and I'm not asking about them."
"You're no fun Tarzan! Don't tell me you're not wildly interested?"
"Wind it in Philip - it's not fair on Harry." Eva smiled gently, but was not quite done with the subject and came at it from another direction. "Her sister seemed so nice when she was on phone going over meeting us off the plane in Nairobi. She's older than Sophie, I think?"
"Claire? She was a forty year old at birth!" Harry laughed warmly, then went on, the affection in his voice made plain. "I've known her husband, Grant for years - he's American, but he was based out here in Harare when the tobacco trade was still going strong and used to come out to the company's hospitality accommodation in Kariba Town most weekends. They left in the early nineties when things were getting too uncomfortable politically. Set up their executive safari business over in Kenya with their payoff - he was top brass. Based there, but not just centred on East Africa as they both have a ton of contacts here in the south still. She dotes on Sophie like she's one of her kids though."
"Age difference about ten years?" Eva was smiling thoughtfully, glancing over at Sophie who was in fits over something Gareth had just said.
"Are you a witch, Eva?" Harry was laughing. "Thereabouts - Claire's nine years older I think."
"We met her remember? But I'm an older sister too - only Amy's thirteen years younger than me."
"Trouble is darling Amy's decided to stop at age thirteen too!" Phil's eyes rolled in disgust.
"That's enough mister... she can't help it - some of the time anyway. She had a rough time after I left home and some of that's left her a bit vulnerable with certain types of people." She glared at Phil who seemed about to interject again, but reconsidered when he saw the warning look in her eyes. "But she's a good kid at heart and I love her."
"Family, huh? Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. My pa and I had some fights after I finally came out. Ma was fine with it bless her, but pa was one of these 'Grand Old Men of Africa' types and he couldn't get to grips with it properly."
"Oh my! How wildly exciting!" Phil perked up again at the thought. "White hunters are too hetero for words in general, I suppose?"
"You'd be surprised then... well no - probably you wouldn't, Jane, but my trouble was more a generation thing of course. My dad was the original regular guy - very Trevor Howard, stiff upper lip etcetera."
"Nothing queer about ole Trev! Oh! How adorable! I can just see you as poor little Lord Greystoke brought up by a big gorilla daddy!" Phil was almost crying at the imagery and the others of course had to know why. The gossipy threesome thus increased to seven again and so the conversation turned in less intimate directions until it was time to leave for Sanyati.

*************

They set off with two hours to spare before sunset, to allow plenty of time to slowly skirt the south shore of the lake and then the eastern side of the Sanyati gorge for the last of the day's heat as the sun disappeared below the western cliffs. As promised they saw pods of hippo, crocodiles and waterbuck as well as more buffalo and elephant again, off  in the distance away from the foreshore. Jim was hankering for a good close-up of a hippo with its mouth wide open displaying its tusks.
"Well, Jim - we can try, but best not to get too close as they're getting a little restive about now. Nearly their dinnertime, so they're looking to get out of the water and there's a fair number of calves so the cows will get pretty ratty if we're too near."
"Also they stink to high heaven, James!" Phil already had a hand over his nose and mouth. "And I bet their breath is as bad!"
"You'd better believe it!" Harry laughed. "Actually if you can get a hippo yawning then that's a better picture really - if one's baring its tusks in anger then it's getting ready to bite, so you have to be damned quick to get a decent shot."
"Pug ugly, vicious brutes the lot of 'em." Phil was dousing a neckerchief with cologne now as the less than fragrant smell of hippo fart became more pronounced.
"I won't get us any closer than this, Jane, so stop your dripping!"

After their bonding session at Spurwing the banter had mellowed considerably and the group was anyway winding down now as the time for their sundowners was fast approaching. Giving up on the hippos, Harry headed for deeper water for a while and increased the speed before turning back in towards the gorge, but then slowed as they approached a small 'forest' of skeleton trees in which were perched a veritable flock of soon-to-be-roosting cormorants and a few darters. He angled the boat around so they could get the falling light levels reflecting in the water behind the gnarled, bony branches and let the engine idle so their wake gradually subsided. "There!" Harry pulled the catches free off the replenished coolbag. "Beer time again folks - you'll get some fantastic pictures in a minute or two."
"No thanks, Phil." Eva shook her head as he was about to hand her a beer. "I'm on sodas for the rest of the trip."
"My God! Are you sickening for something?" Even though Phil was joshing, Sophie turned to look at Eva quizzically, suddenly remembering that she hadn't had any alcohol at all since they'd come to Sanyati and that the movie star had been feeling rather queasy that day.
Eva just laughed and helped herself to a lemonade. "I decided to go on a health kick is all. Lots of water and juice for me from now on - it's more refreshing anyway."
"Let me know if you start chucking up again Eva - it can bugger up your malaria protection," Sophie smiled, but her voice was earnest, "it's so easy to lose immunity if you've got a tummy bug, no matter how careful you are."
"Have you seen the amount of insect repellent this woman puts on, doc?" Jim guffawed "No wonder I'm getting bitten raw, I can't get near our gels and the sprays make me sneeze like buggery."
"The gels are best and I've got plenty to spare if any of you need them." Sophie spoke a little more tartly. "Seriously, all of you, you have to be careful about your routine on a long trip like this, especially near the water. I've had a bad dose of malaria in the past and nearly died - it's really not worth taking risks." She sighed a little as Phil made another of his faces, but laughed good-naturedly at herself. "OK - lecture over, but I'm not kidding either. You all should take care with your malaria meds..."

"Get your head down, Sophie - your body needs the rest."
Finally they were airborne and on the way home. Good as his word, Youssef had got one of the stewardesses to bring them some water so she could take more painkillers and her next dose of mefloquine
[4] before take-off. Sophie was mortified at the unusual attention but, as they'd been given priority boarding with the rest of the 'walking wounded' as Youssef  joked, the Zambian stewardess was quick to put her at ease and had ensured they had pillows and blankets within easy reach if they needed them before the rest of the passengers started to pile on board. They were also in a side aisle with a spare seat between them so they wouldn't be disturbed and Youssef had insisted Sophie take the window seat to minimise any jostling as people moved about during the flight.
"I'm not really sleepy, Youssef - and I keep having horrible dreams when I do, so I'd rather try and stay awake and watch the movie maybe?" To tell the truth it was the icy blast of the air con that had woken her up, even though Youssef had tucked her up nice and snug after she'd taken her drugs. He shook his head but grinned at her. "OK - but humour me and try to take a nap after they serve lunch, huh?"
"Promise." She looked out of the window and fell quiet for a while, watching dusty Lusaka recede as they turned and climbed up into the clouds and onto the flight path for home. She always liked to watch the clouds below them on planes, where the sky was deep blue with the earth far below and remote as they drifted past fluffy fields and misty towers of cloud. A world of cotton wool - just what she needed to wrap herself up and soften all sensation, all pain. But the fever was still there and she needed to distract herself, so she soon turned back to Youssef.
"Why did they switch me to mefloquine?"
"Because the chloroquine
[5] you were taking had failed to keep your immunity up. You know that the treatment for full-blown malaria uses the same types of drugs that help prevent it?"
"Sort of... Was it the chloroquine that made me miscarry?" The question had been circling around and around her head, ever since Claire and Alma had quietly and calmly explained about the 'spontaneous abortion' she had suffered back in Vutare.
"No. That was the malaria, pure and simple. The reason the chloroquine stopped working was in part due to your getting dysentery so much - that also stopped your contraceptive pill working too, of course.  I'm afraid, Sophie, if you're looking for something to blame for losing your baby, then it's down to dirty water and/or your own shoddy hygiene habits at fault."

Sophie flushed more deeply with temper and tears threatened again. "I was always very careful with washing and putting on insect repellent - and I always used a net whenever I could. I only got bitten once or twice on the legs the whole time I was there!"
"Then that was enough, my dear. I'm sorry Sophie - you were just very, very unlucky." The trolley was coming around with more drinks and he broke off to get some more water for them and then, to Sophie's surprise, ordered a double gin and four tonics, but no ice. "Don't look at me like that, missy! They're both for you anyway."
"I don't want them!"
"Yes. You do. It's medicinal." He'd got three cups and let the middle tray down to plonk everything down. Quickly he poured water into two of the cups and opened up the gin and two of the cans of tonic for the other. He pushed the drink towards her and then caught her very firmly by the wrist as she tried to push it back. "Take it easy, Sophie! Like I said last night, the gin will help you relax, and the quinine in the tonic will do you good." His voice was calm and soothing, no trace of irritation showing, even if he felt it. "And yes, I will have a whisky myself, just like I did last night, but with my lunch, thank you. I'm not an abstainer, as I'm no longer a believer, so don't think you can throw hypocrisy at me - this is for you, OK?" He let her go and sighed as she petulantly folded her arms. "And I'm immune to tears too. You have to keep taking your fluids, so you can have the rest of my water instead, if you want to sulk... but no ice with anything. "

They started the first film not long afterwards so they ignored each other steadfastly, whilst she tried to watch and he looked through some papers from his briefcase and the latest issue of 'The Lancet'. After about half an hour's low-key fidgeting, Youssef tried not to smirk as he saw her reach out for the gin out of the corner of his eye. The film was obviously not holding her attention so he put the magazine down. "No good?"
"Not in the mood for it. Mel Gibson gets on my nerves a bit." He laughed and stood up. "I'll keep you company then and go and get that whisky now - do you want some more peanuts?" She nodded stiffly, still not quite ready to get matey again. He was soon back and cracked open the little bottle.
"I see
you get ice then?"
"I don't have malaria, do I! You're shivering enough as it is without putting the cold inside you too. Truce, now? Please?" he winked at her and was relieved to see she was smiling at him again.
"So, what shall we talk about next then?"
"You choose - you're the doctor, aren't you?"
"Prescribing conversations is not one of my specialities, I'm afraid. Do you
really want my life story? You may miss dinner, through falling asleep from boredom you know? That's better!" She was laughing now and he raised his drink in salute.
"I'm not going to argue with you again..." Sophie was suddenly shy and her eyes dropped. "... but what you were saying about Teresa last night...? I wasn't really listening to you, to be honest." She stopped and bit her lip, then looked at him anxiously, her eyes begging him not dismiss her question. He didn't say anything, but nodded slightly, wondering what she was going to say next. "I didn't like her... maybe a bit at first, but... once I was with Tom, I thought she was a real pain... and he idolised her the whole time."
"She was his friend. Before you met him, I think?"
She nodded miserably. "He used to yell at me for being so bitchy about her... I was jealous, I suppose. I felt left out - they practically finished each other's sentences sometimes. But she always called him 'little brother' and he said I wasn't to make fun of her because that was how it was - that it wasn't her being all religious..." she paused and the next words were whispered.  "The last few days I've been having this awful dream and she's in it... Tom is too, but she's there first." Two fat tears skittered down each side of her nose as she took a big mouthful of gin. "She hugged me and then said sorry to me - in the dream. Said it was all her fault. Was it her fault?"
"Do you think it was?" Youssef spoke softly, taking her hand in his because he could see that this time Sophie was genuinely wanting an honest answer, trying to make some sense of it all. She shook her head and shrugged. "You were listening to me a little, weren't you? Last night?" There had been a bit of a 'scene' back at the hotel when he'd met her and her sister Claire, and had started to tell them what he knew about events up in Tanzania, as he'd just got back from there earlier in the day. There was the smallest of nods from Sophie and he didn't wait for her to reply any more than that. "OK. I can only tell you a little about what happened, because I only talked to Mr. and Mrs. Zimmerman you remember, and they had already been questioned enough by the police, so I don't have the full story."
"But you're their friend... and you knew her too."
"Yes, but in respect of Teresa, I didn't know her very well, not really. She was my patient a long time ago, when she was still a child."
"You said you trained her, last night?"
He nodded slowly. "Yes, I did. But that was a long time ago as well, and she was only one of many students." Was this a good idea, he wondered? Another long look at Sophie convinced him she was trying hard to be rational and clearly was desperate to try and understand what had happened to the man she loved and the woman she had been so jealous of, however little grounds there had been for that.
"I think, yes. It was her fault that things happened as they did. She set things in motion, is what I mean. But it was not her fault that she was killed, or got your Tom killed too. The man who killed Teresa and who ordered one of the other soldiers to shoot Tom down... and to fire at Henryk - Mr. Zimmerman too, he was the one who was responsible for their deaths. One of his own men killed him finally and then they pulled out. Stole the truck and ran for the border, leaving the Zyandan women there unharmed. Henryk told me that he thought the rest of the men had sickened of all the killings and just wanted to stop, so they could go home. Teresa had screamed at them that they were like Cain - murdering their innocent brothers and sisters..."

Had it really been that simple? They had just needed someone to point out the 'error of their ways'? The ringleader, a Catholic priest, had been the one who urged the men into following the women to Umbeke. The other men had let him browbeat them perhaps, but they were still as culpable as he was - following orders wasn't a defence for genocide after all. However you cut it, it was a slaughter of the innocents, even if there had been cause for the Matu to rise up against the Lutse 'elite'. That the two tribal groups were largely indistinguishable from each other these days made not a scrap of difference once the mob fury had been roused. How many times had he seen it happen in front of him virtually. People who had lived together as neighbours amicably enough, worked together, even inter-married, had gone mad. And it only took a 'wrong' look at a crucial moment, or a word in the 'right' place and off people went with whatever lethal weapon they could lay their hands on. Everybody suffered for it, even the aggressors. It made no sense, but then it never had, even back when he had started working out in Nigeria. When Teresa had been found and they all were sickened at how that could happen. How it could happen over and over still, after all these years. And people like him were still trying to find the words to explain this to someone like Sophie, knowing that it solved nothing. The innocent dead had no noble cause, no saviours.

"What is happening up there defies logic. Not even in terms of warfare and political imperatives. It is simply madness. Utter and unreasoned insanity. Evil, perhaps. It was her fault that it happened the way it did, but I also think that Teresa could not help herself. She had to act in the way she did, because of who she was, and what she was...  and most of all, why she was that way."
Sophie was quiet, seemingly speechless, but just as he was about to go on she spoke, her voice bleeding confusion. "What way? Why was she like that? What happened to her?"

He told her about the ten year old child who had been brought to him almost dead. How she had been starving for months and abused in the worst and most degrading of ways, then left for dead, ignored by her neighbours, people who had known her and her family since she was born. How she could still have faith in the same god he himself had forsaken, in part because of her, because she thought her life had been redeemed, instead of destroyed. He told her why he thought the little girl, who had lost almost everything she had to live for, instead chose to serve and save others as she had been 'saved'.
"She tried to give others what she had been given. Mercy and the chance to live a 'good' life. And when she saw those wretched women and their children in that camp, she was so distressed she could not speak at first. And then she got very angry, so
that was her own fault. She should have stayed with the others. Not tried to challenge the men who were terrorising those refugees. She was 'brave' because she lost her reason in her fury. She wouldn't help herself, because she wanted to fight for them - as someone should have for her, all those years ago in Biafra..."
"She couldn't stand there and do nothing...?”Sophie's face was white and drawn as the words, dreamt in fever passed her lips.
"That's all it was, really. She felt she had to do something, so she did. And it got her killed."

She wanted to scream the agony out. Tom shouldn't have been with her! He shouldn't have gone with her at all! But all she could do was sob and sob, and all Youssef could do was hold her tight, until she had no more tears.

*************

"Now do you see it?" Sophie was laughing at Phil again.
"OK! OK! I admit it - they're super cute and sooooo pretty it makes ya wanna puke!"
Harry was creased up, jaws aching and the object of all the praise had long since flown off in terror at the vehemence of the conversion of its latest admirer. "Oh, Jane! Don't even attempt to mock the size of the Malachite Kingfisher with this woman - she's unhinged over them."
"Why shouldn't I be? They're the most beautiful little birds in the world!"
"Oh, I beg to differ - what about Pygmy Kingfishers? They're even tinier and have lovely little purple heads..."
"Oh, my god! They don't?!" Phil was out of control now and on a roll, so the bird watching was well and truly over for the day. "They do!!! Where are they? I demand you find me one this IN-stant, Tarzan!"
"Shush - settle down, Jane! You'll have to wait until tomorrow now, 'cos you've just frightened the entire avian population in this part of the gorge off!" Harry couldn't keep up the gruff game guide act up and started chuckling again. "Seriously, man. They're really tiny and nothing to write home about - and they're more of a sort of indigo than purple."
"Awwwww!"
"And they only eat insects so they live back in the bush more. I'll see if I can find some for you tomorrow afternoon - it's a trip to the Dam in the morning, isn't it?"
"I think so - unless we can skip it?" Jim's voice was hopeful.
"It's worth seeing, y'know - one of the wonders of modern African engineering and there's a whole mythology behind it too - quite a spooky one." Harry grinned at them all broadly, back in the raconteur mode he so enjoyed. He took them effortlessly up to the camp jetty whilst they all started asking questions and shook his head at them after he'd tied up. "No, you'll have to wait until tomorrow now, because you need to be there and see the mighty Zambezi tamed to appreciate the tale. If you're lucky I might find an old medicine woman to tell it to you properly..."
"All I can think of are feathery purple heads now - you've totally lost me, Tarzan!" And so it went on, all the way up the path and around the camp fire over drinks, before they went off for their pre-dinner showers.

Sophie was about to set off down the path again when Jim called her over as she passed their rondavel. "Sophie - can we grab you a minute, please? We need to check something with you."
"Of course." Sophie smiled at him as he stood back to let her into their room for the second time that day. "So long as it's not another scorpion."
"No, nothing like that. But you've put the wind up us a little bit with what you were saying about our malaria meds? And with Eva's little 'stomach upset'..."
The emphasis on those last words had Sophie leaping to all sorts of conclusions and so she wasn't entirely surprised at what Eva had to say next.
"Well, we're not too worried because our doctor back in Palos Verdes was pretty thorough, but as you're quite the expert in a very hands on way, I just wanted to be sure, and really..." she smiled happily at Sophie "to reassure you as well. Because you see, I don't have a stomach upset as such at all. I'm pregnant, I think..."
"And we just wanted to double check that the meds we're taking won't hurt anything?"
Sophie nodded, partially relieved, but needing to be professional for a few moments before observing the customary congratulations. "You're taking mefloquine and chloroquine in combination aren't you? Daily?" They both nodded. "Then you should be fine - it won't harm the pregnancy. In fact it'll help your immune system and the baby's and still do its job in protecting you from the malaria strains. You really don't want to catch that while you're pregnant, as it infests the placenta..." She stopped, aware she was being too clinical and might cause some unnecessary anxiety. "Sorry! I'll take my quack hat off and just say congrats to you both." She smiled as she gave Eva a little hug. "Your family doctor knew you were trying for a baby when you went for your other shots, I assume."
"Yeah - we had some trouble getting pregnant, so we didn't want to take any chances when we said we'd go on this vacation. But this was a bit of a surprise to us really, and it wasn't until the other day when Eva started to throw up before she went and made a pig of herself with the biltong..." Jim was prevented from going on by a flying pillow from his dear wife, who was giggling happily.
"And I've thrown up first thing every morning since, whether or not I've been a pig - except today... Well, not until after the scorpion was evicted..."
"You've done a test? Because we could probably pick one up in Kariba Town tomorrow, if you haven't."
"Honey - I've had so many things to monitor this last year, I'm in total harmony with my bod, whether I like it or not! I did an ovulation kit test a couple of weeks  back and we did the pregnancy one yesterday."
"One of those ones that gives you a digital message and whistles and turns blue, then goes out and buys the kid a teddy!" Jim was holding Eva tight now and kissed her on the top of her head. "We're beyond happy, as you might guess!"
"Well triple congratulations to the three of you then! And to Tester Teddy!" Sophie smiled at them both. "And you're not to worry about the meds, just keep taking them regularly as you have been and in conjunction with your repellent sprays and creams. Let me know if you do start to get too ill during the day - take the tabs with breakfast still, but if you start chucking up after that, then I can give you something to help with the nausea."
"I'm very good at following doctors orders - you'll be the second person to know if there's anything the slightest bit wrong, Sophie. I've waited so long for this, I'm not going to risk a thing from now on."
"Hence the health kick thing? I should have twigged then, shouldn't I!"
"Puh! You know us tinsel towners! We don't need an excuse to be prissy."
"But that's partly why we asked for a doctor to be on hand, for this entire trip. Just in case." Jim was still smiling, but his voice was serious. "Sometimes it's handy that the legal boys are heavy on the insurance risks. Jack isn't going to be so pleased though, I suspect."
"Oh to hell with him! I'll have had it anyway by the time he needs me - this'll be in pre-production for soooooooo long he won't be doing the location work until this time next year. They can shoot around me if they get to filming beforehand."
"We'll see - I don't know that I want you off on location at all."
"OK, Mr. Ten per cent! I'll be a good little client..."
"You're a perfect client - and this is the end to a perfect day!"

Any further banter was saved by the dinner gong.



[1] Dragoman - applied to the very large robust trucks of the types used by Aid Agencies and haulage companies in places like Africa, to carry supplies of food, fuel, medicines and other supplies, including people, where they cannot be flown in due to the roads being rough or non-existent, or because of other environmental and/or political prerogatives. Travel companies also now use similar vehicles for back-packing style holidays all over the globe.

[2] Kigelia Africana, known as the Sausage Tree has long pendulous fruit shaped like short-link sausages, hanging from long rope-like vines or peduncles. The 'sausages' are similar in appearance to gourds, but are in fact woody berries.

[3] Ice Cold in Alex ~ A 1950s British WW2 movie set in the Sahara desert. An ice-cold beer in Alexandria, Egypt is the fantasy that keeps a stranded group of soldiers and nurses going as they try to pass enemy lines.

[4] Mefloquine ~ a synthetic type of quinine, widely used in tablet form to prevent and treat malaria.

[5] Chloroquine ~ another synthetic type of quinine, widely used in tablet form to prevent and treat malaria.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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The Gathering of Water


Atika maanzi aatakwe buyoleke
~ once water spills you cannot gather it again.
Ba Tonga proverb

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.
Genesis 6:18 - 6:19 (King James version)

 

Sophie’s Diary: Thursday 4th May ~ Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

Gracious, what a kerfuffle during dinner last night! Well, afterwards to be exact, but 'the call' came for Sonya, our camp host, while we were eating and she came back to get Harry not long afterwards. Then he comes back just as we finished dessert and - well, to say the excrement hit the fan is putting it mildly... Turns out that Harry's little proposition about the bow-hunting over at Bumi Hills has caught Keith and Gareth's boss Jack Hawkins, the big-shot Hollywood director's imagination and he's joining us tomorrow afternoon! Claire had an urgent call back from his office late yesterday and his secretary says Jack's currently in Cape Town on business and will fly into Kariba tomorrow p.m. to join us here in Sanyati and will stay on with Harry when we move on to Uganda at the weekend.
Luckily Eva and Jim seem amused by the news. Apparently it's 'situation normal' as Jack has these sudden impulses all the time, but Phil went into a massive hissy fit for some reason and Gareth's steaming because he was really looking forward to Uganda and now he and Keith have to stay here with Jack. Or rather not here, because apparently Sanyati Camp's not swish enough with their comms facilities, so they'll be staying at the big resort complex over at Bumi when we leave. Harry's pleased at the whopping fee Claire's got for him because of the short notice, but he seems to have spent most of last night trying to get Phil down out of orbit over it all.
We're off to Kariba Town now to go to the dam's observation point and visitor centre. Just me, Eva, Jim and Phil today - Keith and Gareth want to do some editing on yesterday's footage and work on the boulder-cam so Jack can have a look at that. Harry says he knows some of the old Operation Noah veterans up at the dam, so we'll get some local 'colour' - hopefully that'll smooth down some of the ruffled feathers, at least until we go and collect 'Hotshot' Hawkins at the airport afterwards. I must say I'm quite intrigued by the interpersonal dynamics, given that Jack is Eva's ex-hubby squared - they married and divorced twice like Burton and Taylor!

You must understand that Nyaminyami is not a god, or rather, he is not a god in the way of Allah or the Christ. He is a force of nature, a Mudzimu, or Spirit who lives in memories and dreams perhaps and defies definition and proofs. He does not require faith or followers, because he is the Zambezi, and of the Zambezi, and so he does not need the prayers or belief of men. He is the guardian of the Great River in its aspect of the Giver of Life and Death, and so Nyaminyami is also the Lord of the Spiritlands. In times past he was just and bountiful in his wanderings across the great plateau and down into the vleis[1] and veldts to the eastern ocean, if the people held him in respect and did not begrudge him his share of food in times of plenty. During the season of drought it is said that he would take the form of a great water snake, with the head of a fish and if the crops failed, he would allow the Ba Tonga people to take his own meat to fill their bellies in return for their observances in dance and sacrificial ceremonies, until it was time for the rains to swell the Great River once more.

For ages the Tonga lived in peace and harmony with Nyaminyami, the Great River Spirit and their herds and crops prospered in the long valleys of the Zambezi. Though Nyaminyami could be found anywhere along the river, he spent much of his time near a dwelling he made for his wife, Meenda-Musimbi[2], in a huge rock in the depths of the river gorge that was known to fishermen as the Kariwa[3], or 'the trap'. This was said to be one of the portals into the Spiritlands, because the cliffs of the gorge rose high on either side of Kariwa, making the river run white and wild and, in places, deep and perilous. The fishermen stayed away from there, because Nyaminyami, wishing to be left in peace with his beautiful wife, would cause great whirlpools and cascades to form and so their canoes would be broken on the rocks, or worse, dragged down into the black waters by the Kariwa, never to be seen again.
Meenda-Musimbi was a gentle creature who cared much for the Ba Tonga and she would sometimes ask Nyaminyami to help them and make the river rise and flood the land enough to make it green and fruitful, so that the crops would grow strong and tall and feed the Tonga people and their animals. Together the two Mudzimu of the Waters blessed the land and people of the Zambezi, and life was good.

Times change, sometimes slowly, sometimes fast. For the most part life changed little around the gorge of Kariwa and the Tonga were happy in their great valley, under the auspices of Nyaminyami and Meenda-Musimbi. A bad time was long in coming to the valley, but the cities of the Shona and Ndebele peoples grew larger and the British and Americans came to grow cotton and tobacco in the south, and to mine for coal and precious minerals to the west and north; and so their eyes were drawn more and more to the mighty Zambezi and its riches. They did not wish to know much of Nyaminyami and his wife, how they cared for the Ba Tonga and allowed the waters of the Zambezi to flow for the benefit of the people: but they did want to make use of the Great River so the cities in Zimbabwe and in Zambia would become even greater with the new power of electricity. They sent men to Kariwa who would build a great dam to hold back the waters of the Zambezi.
The Ba Tonga did not at first see this as a threat to their ancestral ways, until the District Commissioner told them that they would have to leave their homes, because the great valley would be flooded and the river would rise and fill it for evermore. This seemed to be something ridiculous to the Ba Tonga, but when they protested that Nyaminyami had always made the river rise in its season, then recede so crops could grow, they were not listened to and were told they would lose their homes and their crops if they stayed in the valley and that they must go and live on higher ground in Binga, or move away altogether.

Now, ever since the white men had come to the northern valleys of the Zambezi, Nyaminyami had not appeared in the river so often and indeed the Ba Tonga had rarely seen him in their grandparents' lifetime, and so they began to wonder if the District Commissioner was right and that they should move off their ancient lands. Chief Sampakumura tried to tell the people that Nyaminyami and his wife were still living in the Zambezi and told of two times while he was a young man, when he had seen the Mudzimu's long snake-like body, as wide as an elephant is long, with a huge head like a great Tiger fish, swimming far out in the deep river, where the waters were stained red with his passing. More men, Shona and Europeans came north to work on the building of the dam wall. This was where the Kariwa itself was located and finally the Ba Tonga were afraid, because they knew that Nyaminyami, if he still was there, would be greatly angered by such a thing.

The clans once more held their ceremonies and danced for Nyaminyami, but to no avail. The rains came too early and with it a flood such as no one in living memory, not even in ten thousand years had seen. The Ba Tonga, as was usual had prepared to move further into the hills above the usual levels of the floodplain, but such was the speed and violence of the flooding that many people and their animals, as well as the men who had come to build the dam, were drowned, and the walls of the coffer dam and a great bridge that they had begun to raise were all washed away. As the waters receded it was discovered that many white men who had been working near to the Kariwa had completely disappeared. The Tonga who lived nearby were asked to help with the search for them, but they knew that Nyaminyami must have pulled them into the Spiritlands below the great rock of Kariwa, which of course was still there as it always had been. The tribe danced, many prayers were made and a white calf was sacrificed and set in the river before the great rock at sunset. When they came back there the next day, the calf was gone and there, near the Kariwa, the bodies of all the white men were found, floating in the river where the calf had been left.

Nyaminyami had made his displeasure clear, but the Shona and the white men returned to work soon after. Thinking that they had won this time, Nyaminyami and his wife decided to take their blessings to the other Ba Tonga lands and so the Great Mudzimu swam upriver to the west and Meenda-Musimbi went downriver to the east. The Zambezi in Kariwa receded and, once again, the men came back and started to re-build the dam wall, higher and stronger than ever.  When Nyaminyami returned to the valley after the rains he discovered that the high wall had been completed and stood thick and strong,  just beyond the Kariwa, holding back the Zambezi's waters so it was starting to rise higher than it ever did during the flood season. The lower reaches of the valley between the Batoka Gorge and Kariwa were already under water that would never subside. Worse was to come however. Meenda-Musimbi had not returned in time and was trapped on the eastern side of Kariwa below the dam wall and could not return to their home.
Now a Mudzimu is not infallible and Nyaminyami soon realised he had badly misjudged the determination of the Shona and the Europeans, for their desire to harness the power of the Zambezi had been very great. Grieving over the absence of his wife, Nyaminyami withdrew into the depths of the Spiritlands below the Kariwa. The plight of the Ba Tonga and the wild animals of the great valley became desperate, for the waters of the river continued to rise, driving them  away from the old floodplain onto the high ground and stranding many of the smaller and slower ground-dwelling animals on little islands. The Ba Tonga at least had a place prepared for them at Chibwatatata, where the hot springs lay in the Binga Hills; but the animals, even the great buffalo and elephant, were in danger of getting stranded as the high ground of the central valley became swallowed up by the waters of the Zambezi.

If Nyaminyami was aware of the peril of the Ba Tonga and all the creatures of the valley, there was no sign that he would do anything this time. The tribes danced in vain, for he would not emerge from his dark home beneath the swelling waters and they began to think that the Great Spirit of the Zambezi had fallen into a dreamless sleep in the Kariwa and the despairing souls of the Spiritlands could not intercede with him on behalf of their wretched living children. But Meenda-Musimbi had not been forgotten by Nyaminyami. He could still hear her call out to him as he slept and whenever she drew near to the wall of the dam, Nyaminyami could hear her weeping for him and this caused him to turn and moan deep down under the Kariwa. When he did this, the earth itself rumbled and writhed beneath the waters of Lake Kariba, especially in the great cliffs around the gorge where the Kariwa still lies, far underneath the water.

Time for a Great Spirit runs differently than for the peoples of the Zambezi. Though fifty years have passed, Meenda-Musimbi still tries to come back to Kariwa, though she cannot pass through the dam wall and always she calls out her sorrow to her husband as he slumbers deep below the water. The Chibwatatata hot springs at times grow restive and boil and spit and the ground around the lake trembles and groans as Nyaminyami stirs and twists in his sleep, listening to his wife's crying. One day it is said, when the walls of the dam grow old and weak, Nyaminyami will wake and come out of Kariwa again and his wrath will be such that the Zambezi will finally break down the walls of its prison and the Great Spirit will at last be reunited with faithful Meenda-Musimbi and the Ba Tonga will finally be able to return to their ancestral homelands.

****************

Luey Ogilvy grinned roguishly at the group, his dark brown eyes darting back to Sophie several times - he was always a sucker for natural blondes. "So you had a good time with old Syamenga, I expect? Told you all the old legends about the River God... sorry, the Great Spirit of the Zambezi?"
"Folklore is always so interesting. I think it says a lot about people who have respect for their heritage."
He smiled nicely at the famous movie star and nodded wryly. "Oh, I think so too, believe me! You can't live in Kariba all your life and not have a good chunk of respect for Nyaminyami - have you seen him yet, by the way? No? Well, come along with me and you'll get a good look at the old boy."

He led them further down a shady path to a low plinth overlooking the dam. "Here he is! Of course this is only a scale model and if this was really him - well I wouldn't be standing so close naturally." Luey patted the splendidly coiled sculpture on the head familiarly and flashed another bright white smile around the tour party. "Now, if you thought I was making light of the legend that old Syamenga span for you, then you couldn't be farther from the truth. In fact I'd go so far as to say that, leaving out the wilder mythology and concentrating on the truth of the natural world, there's a hell of a lot of substance to Syamenga's story. Starting with this representation of Nyaminyami. See his head here - nasty long, sharp teeth, hah? Well, if any of you like sport fishing and go out on the lake with your fancy rods, then you might find yourself with one of Nyaminyami's great-great-grandchildren on the end of your line, because this bears more than a passing resemblance in the teeth department, to our famous Tiger fish here in lake Kariba..."
They were in the shade and a pleasant breeze was coming off the lake again as Luey carried on with his little palaeontology and geology lesson "... now the snake-like body of the Great Spirit, ten feet wide and way, way long - nobody knows for sure. Two theories here. Unlikely, but fascinating nonetheless is the 'Nessie'[4] solution." The blonde and the other Britishers in the group started giggling and he winked conspiratorially at them. "Now that's not so far-fetched, if you go back say forty-odd million years ago, when there were early whale-like creatures called Basilosaurus who, from fossil records we know were more eel-like in shape than modern cetaceans and whose heads resembled...?"
"The Tiger fish?"
Wow, that lady had the most amazing blue eyes! Pity they weren't staying in town. "Tiger-ish anyway." They all laughed. "But I kid you not, this animal did exist and from the specimens found over in the U.S. around Louisiana, here in Africa up on the Nile and in Pakistan, the articulation of their spines meant that they did swim more like snakes, or eels, than like dolphins and whales do today."
"But even the Tonga wouldn't try to tell you that the river, remember, because there was no lake back then, could support a gigantic whale-like creature without being a lot more obvious, which brings us to a more likely, but nonetheless mysterious solution - what I like to call the Dagga Dream Alternative." And pause for the usual titters, once he'd explained to them that dagga was the local name for the common recreational drug known as cannabis sativa, that the Ba Tonga avidly smoked in calabash[5] pipes. "Uncle Harry says you saw elephants swimming out on the lake yesterday? Well - imagine you've been hitting the dagga pretty hard all night and your old lady kicks you out of your pit to go fishing and... well you kind of drift in your canoe and then all of a sudden you see this big old shiny wet back, undulating away like some bloody huge freshwater porpoise! See! You get it too, huh?  Hippos'd be good too I think, but they don't do the snorkelling thing really. The actual Kariba legend itself is another matter altogether, because that has a much firmer grounding in geology and climate theory..."

Luey was good at his job and took them through the making of the dam on a more modern and scientific basis, but he slowed down again when one of the group asked about the white calf and the return of the mysteriously missing bodies. "Well - that's all true and so ceremonial dances and the sacrifice worked, didn't they? However, because of course there is a more pragmatic reasoning behind it all, the calf obviously went down some croc's neck, or more likely several as the ones that had survived the floods - they can drown as well of course - would all have been gagging for fresh meat by then, because the floodwaters took a while to go down."
"But that still doesn't explain the reappearance of the bodies - unchewed, but very battered and decomposing of course. Well, forensic medicine wasn't such an advanced art back then and 'T.I.A' so the burials weren't held up much for an inquest - the white men on the building detail who tried to get the plant out of the basin before the waters rose too high were mostly Italian and therefore Catholic. Anyway, no doubt Syamenga told you that this all happened down near the Kariwa right? OK, so old Nyaminyami's trap was notorious for sucking people down, so you have a pretty vicious current there to start with and this flood was a real bitch on wheels and there was a hell of a lot of water running past that would have pushed the bodies and trucks etcetera right down into the underwater gullies. Lots of pressure of course and that would have been sustained for a good while, so the corpses would have stayed down there until the water began to level off and then subside. At that point, the debris would've started to loosen somewhat and things like body cavities will start to inflate with gas and so up they popped - right after the nice fresh calf had been scoffed. Being underwater so long, those bodies would not have been too savoury at that stage for  the surviving crocs, who are reptiles remember, and would have been stuffing themselves stupid on all the other animals that had been caught up in the flooding, so not hungry enough for finding well on their way to rotting corpses a tempting prospect. Makes some sense anyway, and is more likely than some conspiracy theories, that say that it was the Ba Tonga and not Nyaminyami who finally let the dead Italians go..."

Luey took them up to the Chapel of Saint Barbara, patron saint of the Italian Navy and of military engineers amongst other things. This was where those killed throughout the period of the dam construction were buried or had memorials. The latter were mainly for some of those unfortunates who fell to their deaths into the fabric of the dam wall itself and could not be retrieved from the wet concrete. "In all eighty-six men, African and European were killed during the construction of the dam, so some would say that the project was cursed from the outset, because the cost in human terms was high, especially when you consider the problems faced by the fifty-seven thousand Ba Tonga people, north and south of the valley who had to be moved away. Syamenga may not have told you about the one hundred spear-toting warriors who charged the police line back in 1958, when the first of the villages was surrounded prior to being moved out to one of the new permanent communities. There'd been murmurings against the relocations so, when the angry tribesmen got within fifty metres of the police, tear gas was used and spears were thrown in retaliation, but they kept coming. Eight of the Tonga were shot dead and thirty-four more were wounded before they disbanded and fled into the bush. Only one policeman was hurt from a stray bullet. The villagers were moved out anyway, on trucks towing the branches of baobab and mopane taken from the village trees. This was done so the Ba Tonga ancestors who supposedly haunted the trees could ride on the branches and wouldn't be left behind. The dead are very important to the Tonga, because the living inherit their souls; so leaving their ancestors behind to the floods was really unthinkable for them and behind a lot of the resentment against the dam construction."
"Were they compensated for leaving their lands?" Luey shook his head sadly at the little guy's question. "Depends on how you look at it. The new settlements had schools and dispensing hospitals and the land was mostly an improvement on what they had before, except in the south they couldn't or wouldn't change their farming methods, despite government schemes with things like irrigation to help them. The Tonga on the Zambian side did better as they were still on colonial status in the late 1950's when the relocations were being made, so they were able to call some shots for a better deal. Different times back then of course. It was the plight of the animals that got more attention internationally of course, and no doubt Uncle Harry's told you a fair bit about Operation Noah?"
He smile good humouredly at the nods and carried on walking around the outside of the circular white walls of the chapel. "It wasn't quite the conservation success story they wanted - or not at first anyway. Big, big learning curve, even for wildlife experts like Rupert Fothergill who was a game warden, because there'd never been a rescue attempt like it before, except of course in biblical times, hence the name for the programme. Lots of interesting things came to light, such as impalas don't swim, monkeys are great divers and that lions and leopards will swim if they have to, especially when they know there's a bunch of trapped prey just waiting around to be devoured on the islands that were being made as the waters rose. The Operation Noah helpers tried several methods to round the animals up, including banging dustbin lids and trying to herd them into the water. They even experimented using nets - that wasn't such a good idea as it stressed some animals so much that they died, or got so frightened they injured the people who were trying to help them. Warthogs were the worst for that apparently - they're tough little buggers and those tusks are really dangerous and lots of people got slashed pretty badly. Buffs and ellies weren't too bad, unless they had really tiny calves as both species swim pretty well: but there were instances where they couldn't move the smallest elephant calves, as their mothers would attack the rescuers and if they couldn't get the babies off the islands, the mothers eventually killed them, rather than abandon them to the water and starvation. Pretty tragic all around as the islands started to get smaller and smaller. Of course the browse and grazing went and the animals had further than ever to swim to the mainland. In the end, especially with the larger, more aggressive animals like the rhino, who weren't keen on swimming, they eventually took to darting them and from a medical perspective they learned a hell of a lot about dosing with tranks and recovery times etcetera. In all, north and south side of the lake, they rescued around eight thousand mammals, birds and reptiles, especially snakes, over the course of six years between '58 and '64, as the lake filled up."

He'd led them back down to the statue again, where Harry would be coming back to collect them. "Well that about winds things up, unless you have any questions?"
"What about Nyaminyami's missing wife and all these bad-tempered rumblings?" the movie star's husband looked like he might have some sympathies there and Luey nodded sagely, brown eyes twinkling merrily. "Mostly seismic activity - there's been a good number of earthquakes since the Zambezi filled up Kariba - about twenty that were a magnitude over five on the Richter scale, but you put two hundred billion tons of water where it wasn't before and you're bound to get a few geological repercussions! We're at the tail end of the Great Rift Valley here and have hot springs over in Binga, so there's always been some seismic activity going on up here, well before we had the dam. If the wall gave out then of course it would a huge disaster, but it's still here fifty odd years later and outputting a good lot of hydroelectricity for Zambia and Zim, so it's obviously in our interests to keep it in good order..."

"... and here comes your ride folks!" he turned to look at Harry's snazzy top of the range 'about town' white pearl land cruiser that he kept for meeting his more exclusive clientele from the airport and for overland transfers. Luey's face split into a huge grin as the game guide got out and walked over. "Best bib and tucker, Uncle? Your guys have been telling me you have a big shot Hollywood director coming out later?" Harry had been home to change and was looking even more like the big white hunter with a very spiffy-looking leopard skin trim on his mud-coloured canvas drover's hat. He laughed uproariously and caught Luey in a rather lazy armlock, then gave the slightly shorter man a noisy kiss on the cheek.
"Ciao, bello! Come va?" Luey grimaced melodramatically at the tactile greeting, but was laughing as they parted with friendly shoving.
"Owww! Not so good now, thanks to you, Uncle!" Harry grinned around at the group.
"Has this cheeky little Eye-tie been looking after you all OK? No luring you off for some dagga?"
"Nah - just telling us about the calabash pipes." Sophie smiled at the two men as they all made their way over to the smart vehicle. "My, this is swish!"
"Sweet, huh?" Harry was obviously in a good mood. "What can I say - gotta love Cruisers!"
"Gotta lurve clients with pots of money then, Uncle!"
"Oh, you know I do!" Harry chuckled indulgently and winked at Phil "So what d'you all think of this boy then - would he make a good Tarzan, 'cos he surely ain't gonna make it as a movie star if he has to act!"
"Like he'd have to with that bone structure!" drawled the stylist who'd been rather busier looking than listening to Luey's talk. "So you really are a Luigi then, bello?"
"Sure he is, but he's only half Italian - this is my cousin Carl's youngest!"
"Up yours, Unkie Harold!" Luey scowled prettily, but then his lips curled affectionately again. "Thank the gods there's no blood relationship - well not too close. And for the record I have never had any desire to be an actor!"
"Cousin Carl with the lions?" Jim stopped eyeing up the land cruiser and looked speculatively at Harry and then Luey's name badge and grinned at the young man's vehement retort. "Very good instincts Luey - fickle bunch these movie types. I was wondering about the Ogilvy surname and thinking you were too ridiculously glamorous to be a Scot! So it was your mother who was Italian?"
"Yeah - grandpa was an engineer with Impresit, who contracted for the dam and he fell in love with Africa. Brought the family out here to settle when mum was only a toddler, although he ended up working all over southern Africa. Uncle Harry was my momma's eldest brother's best mate." He'd been glancing surreptitiously at Sophie again and was a little surprised to see her throw Harry a questioning glance at his last remark. The old rogue didn't often give out on his personal life.
"So many interesting stories out here! I expect Jack'll be in his element with you, Harry."
"That's what young Sophie's sister is hoping for, Jim!"
"Wait - you're Claire Lucas's sister?" Luey looked at Sophie in astonishment, blushing slightly under the suntan and gave a nervous chuckle. "I used to have such a crush on her whenever she came up here with Grant on weekends - I was trying to think who you reminded me of earlier. Oh! Sorry..." he spluttered to a halt, appalled at what he'd just said.
"Yeah, we noticed you struggling!" Phil observed, rolling his eyes bitterly. Eva shushed him loudly and it was Sophie's turn to flush with embarrassment, though she was laughing like a drain.
"Well, Claire's always been the good-looking one of course - but then I'm much younger than her, so we never really competed for men."
The wind was getting up and she was pushing her hair out of her eyes when Luey finally took in the tell-tale sparkle of an engagement ring and was about to get annoyed with himself for not noticing earlier, when he realised it was on the 'wrong' hand. Or was she one of those annoying females who opted for the continental option of middle finger right hand? The thought barely settled into his head before it went straight out of his fool mouth and the poor woman was flushing like a beetroot belisha beacon
[6]. He was almost incoherently apologetic and Harry was practically asphyxiating himself with ill-timed hilarity, which rapidly infected the rest of the group.
"Oh boy, Sophie! You realise you just pulled the most eligible bachelor in Kariba Town, don't you?" Harry, almost crying with laughter, finally managed to spare enough breath to wheeze out the odious notoriety, which wasn't entirely accurate and certainly not deserved as he rarely dated anymore. Luey had had enough and prepared to withdraw as gracefully as he could manage without actually throttling Harry on the spot.
"Please don't listen to the worst gossip-monger in town!" the agonised brown eyes pleaded with Sophie. "It was just some wishful thinking on my part - I hope he realises what a very lucky man he is?"
"Huh-who?" Sophie was feeling quite dizzy, not knowing whether to laugh it off or burst into tears and had no idea what to do or say now.
"Your fiancé of course? Your lovely ring?" Her hand went up into her hair again in alarm more than anything and her wild raw gaze pierced him to the core as tears did threaten in those beautiful blue eyes.

Harry stopped laughing and, finally looking appalled at the outcome of his mocking behaviour, stepped over to Sophie and put his arm around her, shooting a warning look at Luey to hold his tongue. More than ever now Luey wanted to punch his lights out and spoke out again anyway.
"Have I offen...?" But she was coming right back him, shaking her head and trying to pull away from Harry.
"It - it's OK. I over-reacted... You haven't offended me. Truly." She looked up with some annoyance at Harry. "And you can stop looking so nastily at him - how was he to know about the silly thing! I'm not engaged to anyone, but it was really nice of you to say - what you said."
Harry let her go finally and mumbled a subdued apology to them both. The other three had also quietened and, as if by some magical polarity, somehow a gap opened up and Luey and Sophie were left to recover themselves. Luey, though still thoroughly mortified, was the first to regain his composure.
"I want to apologise though. I didn't mean to upset you - I wanted... Well, you're going tomorrow aren't you so, I thought I'd take a chance and then I saw your ring and - jumped to the wrong conclusion, obviously."
"Not really - back home it doesn't ever get commented on. With it being the wrong hand of course."
Her laugh was so brittle and sad that his heart went out to her. "It really is a lovely ring." He spoke gently, tempted to draw closer to her, but not wanting to make any more wrong moves. He settled for gazing deep into her eyes and just waited for her to take it on, if she wanted to. When she did he was sent spinning off-balance yet again.
"We'll still be here tomorrow. Flying out on Saturday." Why, why, why did she sound like some stupid wheedling kid! She closed her eyes, hoping it would help. It did, though she still sounded a little unhinged. "I was engaged, but he died before... Long time ago now. J-just so you know." Somehow, despite the awkwardness she found a shy smile for him, because he looked so concerned. Luey was almost speechless and could only look at her in bemusement for the next few moments. Usually he was good at talking to women, but then that was when he'd been in love with Sarah. She'd done such a good job on demolishing his dreams of easy domesticity that he'd almost forgotten what is was like to look at a woman with more than passing desire. This girl really did look like her sister Claire though. He'd only been seventeen when he first saw her with Grant Lucas and was he ever jealous of that guy for more years than he cared to admit. He hadn't seen Claire, or Grant come to that, for years now but he'd never forgotten the feeling of looking at someone you knew you could never have and not caring, because it felt so good anyway. The implications of what Sophie had just said finally hit home and he flashed his brightest smile back at her.
"Can I take you out tomorrow then? I have a boat - well, Harry will let me borrow his. He owes us big time!"
She laughed properly at last, her eyes showing her pleasure. "Yes he does. Let's get him while he's still feeling the shame!"

**************

Sophie’s Diary: Thursday 4th May(evening) ~ Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

OMG. Am sitting here stunned so I need to calm down before I make a bigger show of myself than ever at dinner. Luey Ogilvy and Jack Hawkins all in one day is a rather tall order I suppose, but Harry's been brilliant with me ever since he overdid the teasing back at Kariba Heights. Eva, Jim and Jack - it's like the Borgias! They're all absolutely super-polite to each other on the surface, but the underlying hostility! And Phil's been bitching like there's no tomorrow at every opportunity he can grab, which is all the time naturally. And then there's Harry doing shuttle diplomacy that Kissinger would have been proud of between the lot of them and still taking time out to be nice to me and Luey. Luey's come back to Sanyati with us and is sharing with Harry tonight because he'll need the boat tomorrow to go off with Jack, Keith and Gareth up the gorge again. Luey will be doing another game walk with the rest of us here and then out on the Sanyati pontoon with the rest of us late afternoon and staying over to take us back for the flight on Saturday.

Luey. He's a little quiet and very, very kind underneath all the southern African machismo, but I'm not sure I can cope with the way he's looking at me all the time. Now I've had a chance to recover from this morning, I can vaguely remember Claire saying how she had a handsome toyboy Italian admirer up here after they'd got married - it's a small world I suppose. Why couldn't this have happened earlier in the week? He's really so nice, but there's no time to get to know each other. No time - I'd better get showered and make a bit of an effort I suppose...



[1] vlei - a Dutch/Afrikaans word meaning a marsh, or shallow pool of standing water, generally seasonal but sometimes permanent and, in drier parts of the continent, forming clay or salt pans that are mostly dry for years at a time and only occasionally fill during floods. Vleis may hold fresh, brackish or saltwater depending on the topography.

[2] Meenda-Musimbi - in Chitonga this literally means 'water girl'. Regrettably research has not revealed the name of  Nyaminyami's wife and so some licence had to come into play.

[3] Kariwa - comes from the Shona language (alternative spelling is Kariva) and is also the root word for Kariba.

[4] Nessie - an affectionate diminutive for the apocryphal Loch Ness Monster

[5] calabash - the bottle gourd, commonly used throughout Africa for bowls or drinking vessels, pipes, bottles and musical instruments.

[6] Belisha beacon ~ a flashing, usually orange globe light on top of a black and white pole found on pedestrian crossings in the UK and other Commonwealth countries

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Jan 2012 at 3:31pm
Well Luey turned out to be a bit of a watershed character - he certainly turned Sophie's head which is why the next several chapters are all safely bestowed in the adult forum Tongue
 
I said I would get this finished in 2011 and I nearly made it, but this last chapter's dealing with aspects that I'm still needing to research and I haven't managed to hook up with this dramatherapist and EMDR practitioner I found who works out of Launceston. The last bit's going fairly well and a nice cliffhanging (literally LOL) finale is building up so I'm hoping to get it all signed off in editing by the Spring if not before Smile
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16 Oct 2012 at 9:25pm
Work's started again and currently stands at 123,000 words. There are 2 chapters I haven't finished yet (was only one but I'm doing a re-write to expand the story arc so I'll probably end up with another 15,000 words to finish) but with a good run I ought to finish by this year's end...

I need to get myself motivated though and so one things I'm contemplating to concentrate my mind is to try another route to publication and enter a competition - that means I have to complete and lodge it by 31st December 2012 Confused

It's the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award and I think this would fit the brief in that it's for adults and is set on Earth, following the natural physics and happening in a 'parallel' Africa that contains a territory called Zyanda and a community that functions under the auspices of the UN and assorted international social and cultural support agencies that may or may not exist and trades in ideals and myths as well as historical events and real locations and issues.  It has to be between 80,000-150,000 words long so I think I'm not going to be bending things too much and the prize is a bloody good publishing deal - for which I wouldn't necessarily need to find an agent to tout it around the houses for me...

... if I won... Stern Smile 
Opinions on a post card please...
You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jan 2013 at 9:30pm
No reason why I shouldn't post the rest now - it's not commercially published after all and this is still a draft Smile

Hard Rains

. . . And where have you been my darling young one?

I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways...
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard...

From A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
Bob Dylan (1962 ~ The Free-Wheelin' Bob Dylan) ©

 

David ~ Five months later

Slowly and steadily the silver-capped pen moved across his line of sight, rhythmically back and forth and David's eyes followed it faithfully from side to side, over and over as he spoke or listened to Sophie's calm voice. It wasn't hypnotic exactly and he certainly wasn't ever unconscious, even for a moment, but what it did do, despite his own early misgivings, was send him into a kind of removed reality. The sensation during the EMDR sessions was actually pleasurable sometimes, but he hadn't been convinced of its effectiveness, even after he'd researched it on the internet, until they were about four sessions in. It wasn't just the pen and the eye movements of course. It was the talking over, and re-examining, and writing that were all feeding into the re-processing of his memories of the genocide, of Misha, of his father, grandfather and of the nun, Teresa Olatunde.

Starting with that evening back in May, when the insomnia had finally pole-axed him, Sophie had been a touchstone for him. Luey too, but the potential for friendship had been obvious there almost as soon as they'd met at the airport. With Sophie, there had been too much dread and needless concerns about how she would 'see' him, so she had come to be a forbidden grace to him; someone whom he was not worthy of knowing, or even approaching. From the moment Sophie had come into that bedroom, she had gone out of her way to put him at ease and encouraged him to talk about things he'd rarely voiced, even with Christian or Verity. It was strange in a way because he'd never been around Europeans too much before, but he almost felt closer to her and to Luey now, than with people he'd known for years. They were colleagues of course and Sophie was now his doctor, but they were both most definitely his friends. It felt good, especially now Christian was a father and spending more time with his family. Even that was a joy David thought he'd never know, as he was without doubt little Dawn's favourite uncle.

The pen stopped moving and his focus returned to Sophie's face.
'You still feel this is helping, David?'
'Yes it is. I'm sleeping better, although maybe the meditation is helping more with that... but the flashbacks are becoming less frequent and painful. Is there a problem with continuing?'
'No problem - we can carry on indefinitely, provided it's doing you good. But it's slightly unusual to keep up the actual EMDR this long.' Sophie's smile was reassuring as she gave a small shrug. 'But then the trauma's very deep-seated and been stagnant for such a long time, so it's not too surprising that you want to go on. So long as you feel you're getting enough out of it still?'
'It's everything really Sophie... It's hard to think how I was before sometimes. I wasn't really alive anymore and then you come along and it's just talking things over at first. It's got me thinking about it all without the despair somehow.'
'Well that's the trick of course, but you'd be surprised how hard it is to move away from the memories for some people. I think really, even though you'd lived with it so long and in some ways had done some of the re-processing yourself already - so you could function just well enough, you must have known you were at a dead end. In a way it was sink or swim and you chose swimming...'
He laughed at her mischievous grin and rolled his eyes. Swimming was not something he liked too much, although Luey was trying to teach him. 'Well you know how good I am at that! But I was almost dead - or might as well have been.'
'Going to live with Verity's done you a lot of good as well - for her too.'
'I think we both missed having a family - and now we have Dawn to fuss over as well... It's good to have people you love around you.'
Sophie smiled gently at him and relaxed right back in her chair. 'Amen to that! Being with Luey's been so wonderful for me. If you'd asked me around this time last year, what I thought it was going to be like working in Africa again, I'd have told you that I must need my head examining coming back to it all.'
'But you came here anyway - I knew you had to be a brave lady.'
'Brave?!' She shook her head. 'I was scared rigid I think! Right up to when I got on the plane in April to come out to Kenya - I'd never even seen Claire's place there before, I was that afraid to come back. Don't forget I've been on the receiving end of this therapy as well. It's taken me this long to come to terms with what happened back in 1994.'
'You moved on though - got through it in a very purposeful way. You've given a lot of people back their lives, Sophie. I'm very glad you decided you were strong enough to come here.' David looked at her seriously, though his mouth was curved into an affectionate smile, wanting to express his gratitude and admiration for what she had done for him. She was going pink now, so he went on more earnestly. 'No, really I mean it. My life had become nothing, even though I was doing a worthwhile job here. I had no joy for anything or anybody, except my books and even they were starting to torment me. I was breathing, but I wasn't really living like other people.'
'Well you've certainly taken to this like a champion - you're a very intelligent guy and I think part of your trouble previously has been that your brain has been too confined...? You needed to stretch it out more. The way you've researched the subject and how you've approached the writing aspects has been astounding at times - Luey says you're like this great big brain sponge soaking up everything you can cram into yourself!'
'Isodictya elastica?' David laughed geekily. He'd looked it up last week when Luey had made the joke.
'Show off!' Sophie smiled at him. 'Really - Verity ought to send you away to University and give you something to apply yourself to.'
'No fear. I'm happy here and I have everything I need to keep my mind busy now you've helped me out of the black pit.'
'Well at least you didn't need chemical assistance - be thankful for small mercies!' She was silent for a moment as a lateral thought struck her. 'You can do degree courses online now you know - that might be something for you to look at? Do you good to have something terribly cerebral to tackle.'
'I've spent enough time in my head these past years, Sophie. Besides - I'm enjoying the challenge with the game management project support with Luey and the tribal lands liaison work with Verity. I don't have the time to get a formal education!'
Sophie laughed, though she was looking at him closely. 'I meant for enjoyment more than practical or career purposes really - but I guess your OCD's[1] working for you positively now, so I'll let it ride I s'pose.' She chuckled some more as David got the giggles and gave him a gimlet look. 'And don't think your roleplay habit's escaped my notice either, young man! I've been reading some of your fanfic lately - you're getting quite the compelling wizarding style...'
David flushed a little and grinned sheepishly. 'I don't see how you can nag me about that - you started me off on the fantasy genres, so it's your fault I got hooked! Anyway - just because your soppy elf lady's got a complex about mortals dying on her, doesn't mean you can have all the fun with the angst writing...'
'Touché!' Sophie was getting breathless with hilarity now and took a few deep breaths to calm herself. 'I think that's this session done with anyway. You're doing really well - it's good to see you so upbeat and energetic. Now... let's see about the next appointment...' She clicked her work palmtop open and scanned her diary. 'Looks like next month I'm afraid. I'm out on this inoculation mobile clinic up north for a week on Monday and then there'll be more here and in Umbeke. I'm really hoping the rains'll hold off a bit longer now, much as we need them.'
'Forecasts are saying they'll be heavy this season when they finally get here - Sully's driving you isn't he?'
'Yup - should have some fun, but lots to cram in.'
'Luey and I were intending to go up there soon too. Been some reports of malcontents hanging around the Duma Flats[2]. There's Luo camps in those areas, so I'll mention it to Sully so he can keep a look out.'
'Poachers?'
'Could be, although they've not found any signs of traps. Doesn't hurt to be cautious anyway - I was talking to the police over in Mwanza last week and they said there's reports of activity on the borders down south as well...'
'... and if Burundi sneezes, Zyanda comes down with a cold! Don't worry we'll be extra careful up there.'

* * * * *

Long day today. The therapy is working, but what Sophie said about my OCD working for me now is not really a joking matter. Not for me. But she is right of course. My obsessions now are mostly cleansing and borderline 'normal'.
Keeping this journal for the EMDR visualisations is something practical and disciplined, allowing me to organise the memories. But there's pain in here of course and also a creeping and unexpected bewilderment. It isn't having to go over the killings, or the other violence. I already know those intimately - have 'processed' them to some extent already. My own conscience and need to atone had started that before Umbeke. Maybe even before the night Misha and Fleur were murdered. I always knew what I had done was wrong and so it follows that I know who was responsible for the guilt. Even so, it wasn't just myself who carried the blame and it's been this knowledge that's caused me most distress when I finally had to face something I had buried away so deep I no longer knew it was decaying inside of me. My father. My grandfather. Their part in what I had become. They were dead, but I still carried their guilt and their crimes, which meant, I had finally realised, that I was their victim as well as my own.

It's easy to accept guilt on your own behalf, I suppose. You can't escape from your own actions, no matter how many excuses or explanations you find, or invent, as to why something you chose to do was inevitable. That doesn't matter really. You made it inevitable and there's no getting away from that. No matter how much evidence you can pile up to mitigate the something that you should not have started, or thought of, or wanted. The genocide was something that was generated and carried along by hatred and fear and mass hysteria. These things happen. It has happened many times in history and who's to say where it starts. Who it starts with. You can't. Not really. Except with each individual who succumbs, when they decide they must collude with the obliteration of a whole people. Even maniacs like Hitler, or Pol Pot. Mbrame too. And me, because I was too afraid not to.

And then there is forgiveness for me. For a mass killer there should not be any, surely? I don't know anymore. I know the truth for sure, but I got lost in examining my most dreadful actions that the 'softer' ones, that were even more horrific in some respects, in turn got lost inside of me, to lie forgotten. I loved my father and my grandfather, but they had done the same things I had done. Led me to them in fact, because I would never have gone to St. Antoine's that night unless they had come for me. In that at least I was blameless. They could have left me alone, but did not. Perhaps it was their misguided way of protecting me - making sure I was on the 'right' side? I had never questioned it before, but now, in preparing for my visualisations, writing them down and reading the words back again, my examination of the memories got me thinking about how it had started and why I had fallen so deeply into the webs of a psychopath like Mbrame and others like him. So my therapy journal is not just for me, it's for my father and grandfather too. Because I want them to be freed as well. And for me to be free of them, I suppose.

Sophie's been to some trouble in getting me interested in different ideas, philosophies even, that might help bring me out of the self-crucifying tunnel I have dug myself into. Different ways of looking at the meaning of life and, because she's also gone through EMDR herself, she's offered some of the solutions she found helpful, as suggestions for me on how to 'goof off', as she calls it. How to zone out of destructive cycles and let your mind fly and have some fun.  Or just get some kind of exercise that doesn't feed into the crippling, hermit-like habits I've clung to for so long.
It was a very simple idea of course. She asked me what I liked to read. And the answer was - anything. Everything. So then she asked me to make a list of books I'd read and, more importantly
enjoyed, then look for the gaps. I sort of got what she was doing and so I wasn't altogether surprised when she asked to see the list and looked for patterns...

'It's very college library, isn't it?'
'Well, yes - it's mostly things I've got from school. Deborah's lent me a lot as well, since I came here. I like Dickens and Austen a lot. Hugo too. Shakespeare is... odd, but admirable in terms of language.'
'Why do you say Shakespeare's odd?'

I couldn't answer that to my own satisfaction, so we talked about it later on, after the session, as I had to go out with Luey and he invited me back for supper with them. Just friends talking. Something I had missed out on for almost half my life. Luey nailed it - he said that I was all rote and no wild cards. Everything I read had something to do with my narrow rut of self-improvement and need for discipline. Required reading for a classic education. Classic. Shakespeare. Dostoyevsky. Voltaire. Tolstoy. Even manuals to do with my work - I used to read them over and over until I knew them by heart almost. Luey was breathless with laughter when I told them this, but then he sobered up and shook his head.
'Ho, man! That is really anal, David! Don't you ever read something light or pulpy - like... I dunno - Mickey Spillane, or Agatha Christie? Silly, fun books?'

All rote and no wild cards...
I knew
of Spillane and Christie, but it had never occurred to me to read them, or others of the mainstream paperback genres. Of course my access to books had been very limited, but I'd been using the internet since I'd come to the Enclave so, like the true geek I was beginning to realise I was, I went online and researched the world of pulp. I read some Poirot stories and liked his meticulous analytical style (of course!), but it was too dated and removed from my world, so I gravitated to Desmond Bagley and Wilbur Smith, who at least wrote about Africa, historical and modern. I discovered Tom Sharpe as well on Luey's recommendation. His scathing satirical books on apartheid were hard for me to read at first. I couldn't get my head around how you could write a 'comedy' over such a terrible regime and disgusting atrocities, but gradually I began to see how holding something up for outrageous ridicule and deconstruction showed the thinking and justification behind that oppressive regime up for exactly what it was. Luey lent me the Wilt series and that helped me understand the world of parody some more in the pillorying of more comfortable, but still idiotic English social mores. Looking at the 'familiar' from a different angle. And it was, of course, fun to read, if a guilty pleasure at times as some of the observations verged on the grotesque.
It also brought me back to Shakespeare and his tales within tales. I thought about it some more, then talked it over with Sophie and we got into The Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest territory. These were works I had not dismissed exactly, but had found hard to accept the spell-binding and mystic side of things. Those themes made me uncomfortable and so, of course, that was something else to look at away from the EMDR. We discovered we had a mutual fascination with classical and also Norse mythology, and so I suppose it was inevitable that Sophie suggested trying more modern fantasy classics, Tolkien and Lovecraft and others were mentioned. Our conversations spilled over into the virtual realms - it was Sophie who found a fan site that was heavily into genre writing and roleplay and started playing at being an elf woman. She had so much fun she made me join up as well and... well, it was like being reborn almost. Regaining a purity I had forgotten, I suppose. And a way to wield power if I wanted as well - the world of wizards drew me mightily. I was tearing through the books, devouring new concepts and delighting in how another world could be drawn so far apart from ours, but still keep to a truth that I could recognise, even when the story sank into evil or depravity. And dramatherapy
is a valid treatment for those who have PTSD, if you want to look at it more practically.

Some of it was very juvenile, but also liberating as well, especially with the evil creatures in a way, because they were incapable of being anything other than what they were created to be - mean, or depraved, or crazy. The older veins of fantasy writing came from another era of course, with antiquated attitudes and prejudices, but the social divisions and racial borders were familiar in their simplicity, and suddenly I could make a jump into fantasy that felt 'right', even though it wasn't my own truth, because I could re-write myself, or the characters I wanted to write, and nobody could get hurt because it was fiction and a dream that couldn't be real, but nevertheless was habitable in my head. I could start over and make me a new story, even if it was just for a fantasy self.

In some ways I think this was how we all got through the genocide. Not just the killers, but everyone? People like Verity, and like Misha as well. Every day was a new story. You chose your 'side' and off you went, doing what you needed to do to keep going along the path you'd forged for yourself. We were all afraid I think - even Mbrame at times. So I walked the terrible killers' path a day, or an hour at a time, losing myself, my humanity along the way. Some of the time maybe. Partly it was automatic, especially at the end leading up to Umbeke. We didn't think anymore, just like my grandfather had said - we let Mbrame do all the talking, make the decisions. Even when it got us killed.

The night my father was gunned down was a watershed for all of us. We had been on our way back to our truck from our latest extermination of Lutse adherents, when some rebel snipers opened fire on us and we were pinned down behind the mosque. I hadn't stayed with the vehicle as usual because they'd needed more ammo and we'd been late and couldn't park up close enough. So there we were, behind cover with plenty of bullets, but gunmen on the rooftops, better hidden and too much open ground for us all to make a run for it. Mbrame was never too great at tactics, so as usual it fell to my grandfather to work out how to get us out of it. It was nearly dark when he and my father crawled off on a circuitous route while the rest of us kept the snipers busy. My father was shot in the head as he drove the truck between us and the snipers.

Before he'd gone, he'd smiled at me and said they'd be back in no time. That we'd get out OK. But his eyes were sad and tired. It was almost as if he'd known what was going to happen?  I think for most of us that was the point at which we all began to really get the jitters about what we were doing. My grandfather and I took it bad of course. We had to throw father's body out of the truck and leave him there, because the gunfire was so heavy and Mbrame was screaming that we didn't have time to see to the dead. We just left, with me sitting on the floor of the cab trying to drive and grandfather sprawled across the seats shooting and shooting; and Paul Amduna cringing down at the other door, trying to peer over the dash, yelling out directions to me so I didn't crash into the wall. I remember nearly everything, except the rest of that night on that nightmare journey back to our camp. I know I was crying and my grandfather was talking to me non-stop. Only I don't know what he said and then when we got back, I suppose we all drank and smoked until we were unconscious.
I won't remember it. I don't want to. All I know is that from that point I was numb with it all. Even at Umbeke at first. Like it wasn't happening almost. Just something I had to do.

Sophie says to try and get it all down in here if nowhere else. Maybe I will take it to the sessions eventually. We could use the headphones instead of the pen - what has stayed with me is the noise for that day, so that might help me do a visualisation, but really I'd rather leave this one be. I already forgave my father and grandfather for what they did to me, so it's not as though there's an issue left to resolve. And I do have good memories of them as well as the bad, especially grandfather while we were in the Highlands. I just wish we hadn't had to abandon my father. But then it's not as though anyone got a decent burial back then and he wasn't the only one we left that day. If war is hell, then what comes after for the survivors? But I did survive and I've been given a reason to live and, finally, a way to live properly. The therapy is helping for sure.

Time to call it a day - so far as the keyboard is concerned anyway. Tonight I have a new world to explore, courtesy of Luey this time. The Saga of the Exiles, an epic time travel sci-fi and fantasy of inter-galactic prehistoric and future Earth with a bit of the Celtic Bean Sidhe and mind-bending super-powers thrown in! Sounds right up my street. Time too for camomile and wind down into sleep finally. I like my new life.

* * * * *



[1] OCD ~ Obsessive-compulsive disorder. This can manifest in those suffering from PTSD as a coping method in dealing  with other symptoms such as flashbacks or avoidance measures.

[2] Duma ~  Swahili name for cheetah

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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Verity

I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it...
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'...
I saw ten thousand takers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children...
I heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin'...
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter...

Bob Dylan (1962)

 

Sophie’s Diary: Wednesday 31st October 

Luey's birthday! He knows what his main present is of course, but not that Claire got the rings Dad sent over for us last week and forwarded them here to Verity. All he's expecting is a Halloween party for him tonight and also to celebrate our engagement. Can't wait to see what our rings look like finally, even though we won't be able to wear the wedding ones until next year.
Only have to work this morning and that's mostly taken up with a session with Verity, so I'll have plenty of time to get things ready before he gets back. Chris and Debs are seeing to the BBQ stuff (she does a wicked Tex-Mex marinade that Luey adores) so all I have to do is rustle up something for dessert that tastes wildly alcoholic even if it isn't and stick it in the fridge. Amarula bread and butter pudding might be a good idea - use the last of it up.
Still only a few days late. Will wait until I'm back from the clinic trip until I do the test though - don't want to jinx things by getting carried away too soon.

'So what are we going to talk about today Verity?' Sophie settled back into the cushions and sipped at the cool water. Verity beamed a quizzical smile at her and held up the small brown parcel she'd brought in with her.
'Don't you want to look at these first?' she laughed, holding it out to Sophie. 'I'm dying to get a sneak preview!'
'Nooooo!' Sophie blushed as she took it from her friend. 'You can see them tonight when Luey opens them - well the ones with the jewels anyway. The other two are going into storage until next year.'
Verity shrugged and shook her head with a resigned sigh. 'In that case I admire your self-control - I'd want to rip it open straight away and have a look.'
'Oh I will - just as soon as I get it home! But then I know what they look like already. Now,' she looked sternly at the woman, 'back to business madame.'

Verity's sessions were often a struggle to wrestle her away from the daily concerns of the Enclave, but gradually she had been letting Sophie have glimpses of her past relationships, primarily with her husband and two youngest children. These obviously still carried a lot of pain for Verity, but as the memories were mostly good ones, she found it easy enough to talk about her old life in Zyanda as a mother and teacher. Sophie knew a little of the fate of Angelique, Verity's eldest child, but so far she'd volunteered very little information, except to say that she felt responsible for sending the young woman to her death. So it was something of a surprise when Verity suddenly started talking about her daughter.
'It would have been Angelique's birthday today as well. She would have been thirty years old. All Hallows Eve.' Verity gave a hollow laugh. 'Sometimes I find Deborah's fixation with Halloween a little tiresome, but that's just a cultural thing - I shouldn't let it bother me now.'
'Does it?' Sophie looked concerned as Deborah had been busily making jack-o'-lanterns out of gourds and melons for the party, but she kept her voice even, knowing that Verity had very little tolerance for any kind of religious or cultural observances, even African ones.
'No - not really. It's like Christmas or Ramadan. Family festivals centred around gift-giving, or getting the harvest in, or whatever. I don't mind all that so much - Robert always used to like Christmas when the children were very young. Halloween's not really known here, but we have similar celebrations in the syncretic beliefs, so it's not alien exactly. Did you ever hear of Imana the Creator, or the witch peoples?'
'A little bit - nothing too specific. Wasn't Imana supposed to have hunted Death so men would be immortal?'
[1]
'Some such nonsense. The Matu are supposed to be one of the tribes that were descended from the witch people Imana chose to prevent the dead coming back to life, so I suppose we do have a kind of Halloween tradition, except here it amounted to ritual necromancy and cannibalism. And sowed some the seeds for the genocide, because that was another reason for the Lutse and the missionaries to hate us.' 

Verity tailed off into silence for several moments. Sophie was going to wait for her to carry on, but decided not to let Verity's last comment lie and spoke mildly, not wanting to make a big deal of querying it. 'You don't usually make much of being Matu, Verity.'
'It shouldn't be something to be made much of - there's been no real distinction since the first World War, but it made enough difference to fuel the genocide. And actually I have a Lutse bloodline as well, on my mother's side. And Matabele come to that. I'm as much a Bantu as Nilotic in origin.'
'Matabele?'
'Ndebele - same difference. 'Mat' was the old way of saying it in colonial Rhodesia, which is where my mother's paternal family came from originally. They moved north during the nineteen forties - after her father left the RAF. I was born in Zyanda though and that's enough ethnicity for me. I'm Zyandan and that's an end of it now.'
'Genetically there's very little difference these days - not over here in central Africa anyway, with the bloodlines merging over time. The Nilotic population's still more marked physically in southern Sudan and East Africa over to Somalia, but I guess the main difference in most nations now are linguistic.'
'And as we all speak English, or French - or German even, that's getting less and less important as time goes on. Some good had to come out of European colonisation eventually.' Verity sighed and patted Sophie on the knee apologetically. 'Thank heavens we don't let politics into the equation here in the Enclave - there are enough difficulties to try and survive here in Mgakera without constantly worrying over what our grandparents kept pecking away at and holding grudges for it all. Even now it makes my head ache and my stomach heave when they have elections back in Zyanda - at least I don't have to vote anymore! Robert would be mad as hell at me, but I don't ever want to get involved in another national political rally. Community council elections are bad enough, but at least we've got around that here with the clan accords.'
'Well I must admit to thinking it all sounded pretty feudal when I read up on the Mgakera constitution, but it does work remarkably well in practice.'
'Most people will behave themselves on a family and township level provided they don't have too much interference from outside of the community. When it was agreed to take down the borders around the river country, it took away a lot of the problems between the Matu and Luo villages over territory for the herds, and they're both happy to work on the farmlands and profit share. And of course this was such a sparsely populated area already, it wasn't too difficult for the governments to cede the land and power to UNESCO and lo! Mgakera is remade as a Utopia that only has invested citizens and no rulers. Well - administrators perhaps, but I'm a community employee all the same.'
'You'd win a vote for president if there was a vacancy I think - but yes, I'm all for cutting down on electoral paperwork and keeping profits where they're made, instead of hiving all the money off to investment houses or petty despots.'
Verity grimaced at the latter sentiment and laughed resignedly. 'Well Black Africa got along for long enough with a thousand kings and no border delineation most of the time, give or take tribal migration and conquest. There's enough to contend with just with the weather without hitting each other continually on the head because you'd rather milk a cow than drink it's blood and make shields out of the hide.' She dipped her fingers into her cup of cooler water then dabbed them onto her already damp forehead. 'Wretched air-con! I really wish the rains would hurry up and break - it's getting too hot to think almost.'
'Amen to that! I'm glad we're not closer to the Lake - the humidity must be killing over in Mwanza.'  Sophie paused a few moments and then went on tentatively, not wanting to push too hard at Verity and lose the opportunity to steer back to Angelique somehow.  'I'd like to know more about the witch people - as you mentioned them and if you don't mind talking about the old customs too much?'
Verity gave a hard laugh, then shook her head ruefully. 'OK - as it's sort of seasonal to talk about them and I like to pour scorn on the subject... Unless you'd rather I saved it for this evening?' this time her laughter was more conciliatory. 'Where to start with it?'

The hourglass had already been turned once when Sophie saw it was well on its way to emptying again. Their conversation had skirted around what happened to Verity's eldest child and touched on other, more recent conflicts in Central and Western Africa, were the war rape and abuse of women and children was seemingly forever finding new depths. 'It's really weird how cannibalism gets justified, even today.' her voice was soft and sad. 'What was it someone said - we're all just a good hot meal away from turning into savages? Except in Africa where people are too used to living at the edge of starvation.'
'All too true, yes, but at least in some places we're working on that.' Verity smiled at the doctor, 'It was barbarians I think, but savages is a better word for what some of the Matu witches were in the 1500s. You can hardly blame the Lutse for hating them so much when they first reached the central uplands and were systematically slaughtering them into submission. Or for being afraid that it could happen again. God and Allah were supposed to have stopped that possibility, by bringing the old ways to an end, but I think in a way it made it worse? With the Catholics in particular...'
'Men like Mbrame?'
'He was a disaster waiting to happen I think. Quite mad, even before the killing started. Robert said that Mbrame's family were mixed up in some witch smelling
[2] scandal a few generations back, so who knows - maybe it was a tradition for him to indulge in ritualistic sadism and sacrifice and a simple thing to screw it all up into a half-baked biblical jihad?' She sighed and paused to pour more water for them both. 'But really I think with Mbrame it was more to do with rites and sanctity than actual power-tripping so much. Did David tell you about him? How he baptised them all the night before it began, to make them his 'apostles' - holy warriors?'
'He hasn't told me, no, but he's written about it in his visualisation journal. I thought it was rather mixed up, but I suppose it was a way to justify what they were doing. Making it God's work?'
'The god of love and tolerance?' Verity's voice was harsh with contempt. 'My Misha was there too - he came home reeking of dagga and communion wine, singing hymns and saying he would be an angel. At least the animals who killed my poor Angelique didn't try to hide their hatred behind idiotic bible thumping, or twisted crusading ...

She stopped abruptly, breathing hard. This time Sophie waited for her to calm in silence, just reaching out to stroke her hand gently while soft tears fell.
'I thought I was sending her to safety. Away from what happened to my little ones. I let her out of my sight because I didn't want her to go the same way as Misha and Fleur, herded into a church hall where they were supposed to be protected. Better to flee with friends than stay and wait to be killed. I thought I was doing it for the best...'
'There was no way you could have known what would happen. Everything was so frantic and confused. It wasn't your fault, Verity.'
'I could have gone with her. I should have...'
'But you didn't. Because you were needed so desperately where you were. A few days before - or afterwards - and maybe they wouldn't have run into that militia patrol and Angelique and the others would have got across the border. It was war - you acted for the best to give her a chance, just like you took a huge risk to get your other friends to Umbeke a week later.'
'While she was being raped and mutil... Ah, hell!'

'We can stop if you like, but it might be better to go on for a little if you can?' Verity had finally stopped sobbing, but was still trembling and Sophie wasn't about to turn the now empty hourglass a second time, even if they were going to carry on. 'I won't tell you that crying is cathartic, but this may help to release some of the pain you've had dammed up inside you for such a long time, Verity. It's not weakness to let it go now - this is really the first time you've been able to talk about her at any length to me, and you've done so well. Up to you anyway.'
Silence again, but Verity's grip on her hand tightened and Sophie waited some more.
'You wanted to go back and start getting ready for the party, didn't you?'
'Plenty of time for that - Debs and Aisha are helping me. I can stay with you as long as you want.'
Another pause, but then Verity seemed to come to a resolution. 'You're right of course. I know it wasn't my fault, but she was my daughter. She didn't want to leave me but I made her go anyway. Told her I couldn't bear for her to stay where there was danger, even though she wanted to. The way should have been safe enough, but it wasn't. We didn't know that.'
Verity's head had been bowed while she said all this, but now she looked up to meet Sophie's gaze. The tears had stopped and she tried to smile. 'And you're right about holding all this in for too long, but I don't want to carry on for now, please.'
'That's OK...' Sophie started to say, but Verity wasn't quite done and interrupted her.
'What I would like is to be busy with something that has nothing to do with the past, or with Mgakera for a few hours.' The smile grew a little stronger, though her eyes were still sad. 'I'd like to come back with you and help you with the food, or whatever needs doing and think about being happy and celebrating something good. Angelique was only a couple of years younger than you - did you know that? I'd hoped to help her prepare for her marriage some day and it would mean a lot to me - to help you, my friend.'
Sophie hugged her firmly and simply said, 'That's what we'll do then.'

* * * * *

Sophie

I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred

Bob Dylan (1962)

 

Sophie’s Diary: Friday 2nd November  ~ evening

Yesterday was almost a blank for me, although I did manage to get some work done in the pm. So glad we decided not to leave the party until this weekend - have been throwing up the last 2 mornings, but Luey was out for the count until about 10 yesterday. Have attributed my continuing jippy 'tummy' to the chilli butternut squash which also had Luey hurling for a bit and he has the constitution of a rhino! I know I should tell him but I don't want to until I'm really certain - and I have been later than this before since I met him...
Verity and I managed to have another chat today, just in her office for once, so she could break off and potter about if it got rough. I've offered her some EMDR sessions, but I think she's right in continuing with just the counselling as it's mainly to do with getting things out finally with her. We talked some more about Celine and Teresa as well - when she was a little girl and what could have happened to her in Nigeria. I'm so glad I saw that photo of her when she was young with Henryk - no use in wishing that I could have understood sooner how it was with her and Tom, but at least now I can remember her fairly and for what a great doctor she was - she'd have made a brilliant medical consultant on the team here.
This vaccination tour is going to be so useful - I'm doing TB and DPT
[3] plus yellow fever, as well as doling out the contraceptive goodies, but it's the shots for the so-called childhood illnesses like polio and measles that we take for granted at home that will be so vital...

The rain had dwindled away to a soft mizzle for now as Sophie and Sully finished packing up the vehicle and Luey had come out to help and see them off.
'Look after her, Sully - and don't let her take a turn driving if it starts chucking it down again. She's far too fond of that gas pedal!' Luey winked at the lanky driver as he gave Sophie another 'last' hug goodbye.
'And of course you never put your foot down, Mr. Speed Demon!' Sophie planted an irritated kiss on Luey's scratchy weekend chin and disentangled herself with some reluctance. 'Time to let me go, Doolittle - I'll call you tonight from main camp if the signal's OK.'
You'd better, babe.' Luey shut the door of the Land Cruiser smoothly after her and leaned in through the open window for a proper kiss, then stood back and waved jauntily as Sully pushed into first gear. 'Take care both of you - see you in a week!'

Had that only been an hour ago? Sophie sighed and pulled her khaki jacket close around her as she watched the wipers struggle to keep up with the incessant battering of the rain, even on double speed.
'You want the heater on, Doc? Can't have you coming down with the chills.'
'No, it's OK Sully - I'd rather have the window open, but then we'd both get soaked. I don't like this sort of weather out here. Gets so muggy and it feels like the whole world's crying.'
'Just think of all those happy coffee beans! This is just 'breaking day'. Tomorrow or the day after it'll blow itself out for a few days until the next lot arrives. The first storm's always the worst and this one's very late!'
'I think Mgakera gets the worst of the equatorial forest and savannah weather with bells on!' Sophie muttered sulkily, but then laughed because she could never stay moody with Sully for long. 'Sorry - just feeling sorry for myself.'
'You'll be back with Luey in no time - these vaccination trips always fly by. And I brought some Bob Marley with me, so we don't have to talk to each other!' He flicked the CD on as Sophie thumped him on the arm, laughing all the while.
'I'll give you No Woman, No Cry, Suleiman Mustafa!' she said fiercely and then spoilt it by laughing again.
'Ah no, Doc. You're one of my little birds! Don' worry, 'bout a thing!' he started to sing along and Sophie smiled at the rain streaming down the windows.

She let her thoughts wander over the past few days as they drove north east, barely noticing the rain now as Sully's growly voice lulled her irritation away. Verity was over the worst now, but it had been tough at times as she let the dam walls fall, talking in the main about her three grown children, but sometimes about the other four babies that she'd lost. Two of the miscarriages had been due to placental malaria, and this of course had opened old wounds for Sophie. She'd come to terms with her own loss as inevitable long ago, whether or not Tom had been killed. Malaria really was a killer so far as babies were concerned, and Sophie now knew how lucky she had been not to die as well, since she had had no natural immunity after her medication had failed.
If she was pregnant, this time it would be different. She had prepared thoroughly for this week away, packing a small camping bed net and a good supply of her meds and sprays, and the anti-mozzie regime at Mgakera was exemplary. But, but, but... mozzies hatch and develop in water, so the rains were always a dodgy time; although incessant downpours did help a little, especially during twilight and dark, as at least the little buggers couldn't swarm too well in a deluge.

She'd been talking a lot about the equatorial rains and mosquito life-cycles with Luey and David too. A smile crept over her face as she thought about the unlikely friendship the three of them shared and the strange way their conversations span out and ranged over such a wide area of life experience. With being pre-occupied with the vaccination clinics and infant mortality, Zambia and Tom had been on her mind as well, and somehow the talk had turned to him several times since the party - both Luey and David were curious about her first love, though for different reasons. She was beginning to think that, if things had been otherwise, Luey and David might have been friends with Tom. They all had things in common for sure, but then so did she though naturally things were platonic between her and David, especially with the doctor-patient relationship. In some respects David reminded her more of Tom, but that could be down to his passion for trucks and birds.

Weird how things turned out. Since that night in Kariba her recurring dream of Tom and their baby had ceased, but sometimes she had the feeling Tom was still close to her at odd times. When Luey looked at her in a certain way, or David pointed something of interest out as they were driving. If David felt he had been given a second chance at life, she too was regaining feelings she'd thought would never come back to her, that had died with Tom. But they'd only been waiting for her she realised. Lying just below the surface, waiting for her to recover. People were resilient and needed each other.
She'd been good for Luey and David too of course. For Luey, in his capacity to love and be loved and in all kind of ways for poor, stunted David. His progress really was astonishing - she'd never encountered such a success story, not only with the EMDR but with the dramatherapy that the roleplay forum was supplying. For herself as well - it was really silly how much pleasure she was getting from messing about being an elf! Luey had been teasing them both about their online 'am-drams', steadfastly refusing to join in, although of course he was just as bad really with his WoW[4] habit, but then some people needed body counts and a Rambo hierarchy and didn't 'get' the attraction of self-written roleplay and being totally in control of character development and goals, instead of working with the game infrastructure the whole time. It wasn't even exercising the imagination so much as finding out what really mattered to you. What you could believe in. Maybe she'd see about taking an online module in transpersonal psychology
[5] - that might be something to stretch her mind a little in between wedding planning for next year and the new baby...

She pulled herself out of the reverie sharply, cheeks hot with embarrassment, even though Sully had no inkling of the cause and started rootling around in her bag to cover her discomposure.
'Need some coffee? I'm falling asleep here.'
'You read my mind - I can pull over after this hill.'
Sophie sank back into her seat again and tried to concentrate on the scenery as she hadn't travelled up here too much yet. Far too soon to start thinking about baby showers when they were driving through an actual force of nature of equatorial rains.

* * * * *

Sophie’s Diary: Monday 5th November  ~  main Luo encampment west of Lake Tembo

Well I suppose it was worth the awful day travelling up - today we got everyone who showed up inoculated by teatime and they've been lovely to us hospitality-wise. Delicious goat curry and rice last night and yummy warthog with roast yams this evening. But I blame David and his ruddy long range forecasts! Early rains like wretched Calcutta monsoons - yesterday it bucketed down from start to finish and we apparently only just made it over the pontoon bridge as we crossed the Tanga on the way up. It's U/S for now, but at least the weather cleared this morning and they said they'll re-jig the anchors tomorrow if it holds, as the river's gone down a little. It looks like they really caught the downpour over the border though - couldn't see the Mgakera Highlands on the Zyandan side for murk on the Uganda highway as we came north!
Sully says there's another way over to the Flats, although it adds about an hour to the journey time for the trip out to the Lake camp tomorrow. He's not too happy about going there I think. Not because of these reports of illegals, but I'm guessing that it's not a great place to be in if it starts flooding - very low country there lakeside, although I don't think the Luo have a permanent camp down there as there's plenty of high ground. It's spectacular up here in the dry season as the water supply's permanent - great for growing coffee, but that's mostly off Enclave land to the east of the Lake. Luey was a bit disappointed not to be able to come out with us - Lake camp's not far from this biggish island he's got his eye on for some breeding scheme. He's being really cagey about telling me what it is they're up to and David's suddenly clammed up on me as well...

Ephraim struggled up again, fighting the panic down. He was shaking with the effort and steadied himself against the boulder as he checked the makeshift tourniquet above his knee for what must have been the hundredth time and offered thanks to Allah that the blood loss from the wound on his calf seemed to have been stemmed. The last thing he needed now was a predator to catch the scent. He wasn't too far from where the herd was and maybe the others would be on the lookout by now, as it was past noon and they'd been gone for hours. He passed his fingers across his eyes, dashing away sweaty tears. At least he had escaped with his life. Painfully he pushed himself off the rock, leaning heavily on his staff now, hardly putting any weight at all on his right leg for fear of setting the bleeding off again.

* * * * *

'What on earth's the matter, Sully? Sit down - get your breath back...' Sophie was alarmed at how strained her driver looked as she finished swabbing the needle mark on the little girl's arm, gave her a hard-boiled sweet and steered her back to her mum.
Sully shook his head, but leaned over slightly, holding his arm across his ribcage and took slow breaths before speaking. 'No time, Sophie. Got to go out and collect a casualty right away - one of the herders been shot and they're saying another's been killed...'
'I'll come with you then...!'
'No! Sorry. No - best you stay here and I'll bring him in. It's only a few miles and you'd have to set up again. I'll be gone fifteen minutes at most.'
'OK. I'm nearly done here anyway. Do we know how bad he's hurt?'
'Leg injury and they said something about a bullet lodged in the shoulder? He's weak but conscious.'
'Get going then - and be careful!'

* * * * *



[1] In  the legends of the Congo rainforest, Death is a savage animal and hides from Imana the Creator under an old woman's skirts. All unwitting, the woman takes Death into her home and dies. After she is buried, her son's wife notices there are cracks around her grave and, fearing the old lady will come back to life, for three days the younger woman fills in the cracks so the spirit cannot return. Because of this, Imana decides that he will no longer hunt Death and from that day on men can no longer come back to life when they die.

[2] witch smeller ~ in African culture they were (and are) generally female and themselves used 'magical' techniques sometimes to detect evil witches. This often resulted in malicious scape-goating of the innocent and so witch smellers were almost more feared than the evil-doers they were supposed to hunt.
In Rider Haggard's King Solomon Mines, Gagool is primarily a witch smeller, rather than a shaman or medicine woman.

[3] DPT ~ Diphtheria, Pertussis (whooping cough) and Tetanus

[4] WoW ~ World of Warcraft. Possibly the most successful and certainly ubiquitous online fantasy battle gaming environment on the planet

[5] transpersonal psychology ~ a branch of the science that investigates the spiritual aspects of human experience including the visionary.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jan 2013 at 9:36pm

The Enclave


I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin'
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty...
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden...
Where black is the colour, where none is the number
And I'll tell and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin'
But I'll know my songs well before I start singin'
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Bob Dylan (1962)

Verity happened to be in the comms office when Sophie came on the radio. Quickly, she took over from Henri.
'Verity here. Say again Sophie? You're breaking up badly... Over.'
'Bloody storm! ... can you hear me now? Over.'
Henri fine-tuned and the crackling died away slightly.
'OK - yes we have you now. It's raining hard here too. Over.'
'Really bad here. Not just the rains - we have a big problem! I just took a hunting rifle bullet out of one of the herders up here - from his shoulder and he's got what looks to be a terrible ragged wound from an automatic weapon on his leg... very worried it might get infected...'
There was a crackle and what sounded like someone else talking. Verity looked at Henri anxiously and nodded when he asked if he should get the police on the phone. Sophie came back on.
'... Sorry that was Sully. We're going to take a few of the men out to where Ephraim was shot - he says his friend Okot went down and he thinks was killed. Over.'
'Roger, Sophie. Be careful please. We'll call the police over in Rufighebwe... Do they know who was doing the shooting yet? Over.'
'Em... Sully's saying they think they were Zyandan mostly - not local tribesmen? Militia... Oh god... They had chainsaws! Were taking ivory - elephants... They saw smoke and vultures and went to investigate... were on their way back when they got Okot and Ephraim just ran for it. Yes! Get the police definitely. Over.'
'Thanks, Sophie. Just to confirm - you're at the Lake Camp on the Duma Flats, yes? Over.'
'Yes - but they're moving off the plain as I'm talking to you. River's almost burst its banks here but the road's passable Sully says, and we're going back to main camp after we retrieve Okot. Ephraim found vehicle tracks, so Sully says the poachers won't have stuck around. Hopefully I can call you from main camp later tonight? Got to go now. Over an...'
'Sophie! Are you there? Sophie!!' The line crackled thinly to itself.
'Sounds like she was signing off anyway, Verity.' Henri said and held out the phone to her. 'I have the desk sergeant on the line for you.'

* * * * *

'Luey - calm down and listen to what Verity's saying!' David pushed Luey back onto the sofa in Verity's living room and held him down by the shoulders until he was certain that the Zimbabwean wasn't going to kick off again. Verity sat down beside Luey and took both his hands in hers, squeezing his fingers gently.
'Try not to worry, Luey. Sully's there and he'll look after her. They were taking some villagers with them - they'd were armed as well and, like I said, these poachers will be long gone by now. She said they'll call in again in a few hours when they make main camp - and the police are on their way up there already. There's nothing we can do now without more information. No point in our driving up there until we hear from Sophie and Sully tonight. OK, Luey?'
David was crouched down in front of him now, looking anxiously into Luey's face as he struggled to regain his composure.
'Sorry...' Luey mumbled raggedly. 'This godawful storm's not helping either.'
'T.I.A - anything that can happen, will...' Verity broke off as her phone rang and she motioned for David to get it. He was back within a minute, looking even more concerned.
'That was Henri. He's just heard reports on the news of a 'quake over at Lake Kivu an hour ago and some aftershocks already in the Zyandan Highlands...'
Luey groaned 'Cosmic! That's all we bloody well need with the rains as well!' He patted Verity reassuringly. 'OK - I promise I'm not going into orbit again honey, but I think I'll go home to pack a bag and come back here for the night, if that's OK with you? See what they say when they get in tonight and then maybe David and I can go out first thing tomorrow morning?'
Verity was nodding as he stood up and jingled in his pocket for the car keys. 'Yes, come here for tonight, but the police will be calling as well. Best we see what they say before you go charging around. Drive carefully - the roads will be getting very muddy now.'
'No fear. I'll be good!'

Just over an hour later David went to the door to let Luey back in. Verity was talking to the police at Rufighebwe on the phone, her voice low and anxious. The rondavel seemed shrouded in darkness as the last of the daylight was swept away by the rain.
'A little good news - Sophie and Sully arrived at main camp OK, but there's more trouble up there and the comms are all out. The police are co-ordinating on a portable mast from there, but we won't be able to go up until tomorrow at earliest.' David looked tense but animated, as he took Luey out to the kitchen where he was making some relish to go with their mielie-meal supper.

Luey's anxiety levels were almost through the roof with frustration. 'What the hell else can go wrong, now! Are they sure they're OK - and what about those bloody poachers?'
Both men looked around hopefully as Verity came into the kitchen, still holding the phone and about to speed dial one of the CAMEO distribution hubs. She spoke quietly and urgently, not looking at either of them. Finally she finished the call and shook her head sadly.
'There's been a massive landslip at main camp and the telecoms mast has come down. The officers that were sent up there met Sophie and Sully on their way in. It looks like the Matu who killed the herdsman headed north-west for the Zyandan Highlands.' She met Luey's worried gaze. 'There's flooding now on the Flats, so their trail's mostly likely been wiped - that's all come from the Luo who went with the Cruiser... The damage is bad up there - several people were crushed in the landslip and almost all the permanent dwellings went down. Sophie and Sully are doing the best they can with the wounded, but they need supplies and shelter as soon as we can get them up there. There's around a thousand people without a roof and about a third of them have injuries of some kind.'  She stopped and stabbed out the number viciously.
'How bad's the flooding up there, Verity? Did they repair the pontoon?' Verity shook her head at David, then turned slightly as her call was picked up and immediately launched into a torrent of French.

Luey looked at David in dismay. The Matu smiled grimly back at him.
'There's other ways around, Luey, but it sounds like we'll need to take some of the big trucks up there for the casualties.'
'Can we fly in...? Get some med supplies in there if nothing else...' The Mgakera airstrip currently had two crop sprayers that Luey had been borrowing a little for game-spotting.
'Depends on the flooding - not a lot of landing strips there away from Lake Tembo. Verity's on to Bujumbura
[1] - they're co-ordinating for the earthquake - best chance for getting hold of NFI aid in a hurry. Mwanza's further and the road around Geita's always hell in the rains. The damage is really bad all around the south-west area of Lake Kivu apparently.'
'Yeah - I heard on the radio as I was coming back. What's NFI?'
'Non-food items - so meds and equipment. Tents, rescue stuff.'
'Of course...' Luey flushed in mortification and looked anxiously over at Verity who was now listening more than talking.
'At least we know where Sophie and Sully are and they're not in any great danger now. Could be worse...' David was taking pains to keep Luey reassured.

Verity had finished and motioned for them to join her at the kitchen table. Her face was sad but calm and she squeezed Luey's hand briefly as he pulled a chair back.
'Try not to worry - nothing much we can do until the morning now. The weather forecast for tomorrow is an improvement on today, although we could still have rain up here. That's why they moved the aid co-ordination over to Burundi - the earthquake epicentre was to the west of Lake Kivu, but they've missed out on the rains so far, so the roads are fine.' She looked over at David and went on. 'You'll need to get on the road as soon as it's light and take three dragomans to the airport at Bujum - they've got fuel and the usual humanitarian supplies at the depot already and there's some specialist boxes with tents and survival gear being shipped out from the UK tonight. That'll be arriving not long after noon tomorrow - they're flying it in from one of the military bases to save transit time. They said they can let us have some of that emergency gear and maybe some people to help with the set up, so you'll be able to go straight from there cross country to the Highlands and get to main camp that way. Even if they get the pontoon up again you won't be able to get the dragomans over it, so that'll save some time. How soon do you think you could get to main camp from Bujum - the roads up country in Zyanda aren't too bad apparently.'
David was nodding as this last part. 'They've just finishing laying asphalt end of September, so it's as good as it gets. Depending on these survival boxes clearing the airport...'
'That shouldn't take that long - CAMEO have worked with this disaster relief company lots of times before in other places - floods and earthquakes. Everything.'
'OK - hopefully we'd make it back up there midday or later the day after tomorrow. Maybe quicker if the weather holds and we can drive safely after it gets dark.' He glanced over at Luey. 'What about getting a plane to main camp - maybe take Christian and some more med supplies up in the morning?'
Verity hesitated a moment, but then grinned. 'Yes - the police said that Gobengwe's still above the surge and they can get a vehicle there to pick up Christian. Luey - will you be alright to fly him?'
Finally Luey stopped frowning. 'Yeah! Course - I know Gobengwe pretty well now. The strip's not too close to the river there, so it ought to be fine, so long as it's not too stormy.'
'Good!' Verity got up again, taking the phone with her and heading for the living room. 'I'll call the police back to set this up and then Christian and the guys over at the vehicle shop so they can get the lorries ready to go first thing. You two can finish cooking dinner and then we'll all get an early night. Busy day tomorrow and I need my rest!'



[1] Bujumbura ~ capital of Burundi

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jan 2013 at 9:37pm

Angels of the Abyss

And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years

Book of Revelation 20:1-2 (King James version)

As none of them slept too well they were all up before dawn. Verity went off with David to the vehicle shop to help supervise the loading of provisions for the journey to Bujumbura and beyond, leaving Luey to go and pick up Christian and the medical supplies to supplement what Sophie had with her. As the two men headed back to Mgakera's airstrip, the rain eased off somewhat and Luey began to anxiously watch the cloudbase.
'Is the visibility going to be a problem?' Christian was not a confident air traveller.
Luey grinned over at him. 'Gobengwe's lower than here, so it should be OK mate. I wasn't planning on taking her up too high anyhow and it looks like the rain's gonna fizzle for a bit.'
'Will we have that thing...? The bumps...?'
'Turbulence?' Luey laughed. 'A little, but that's normal for a small plane. Don't worry I need to keep below the clouds so it won't be real bad. Besides which it's only a short hop - we'll be landing about twenty minutes after take-off.'
'Those are the worse bits.'
'Promise I'll be as gentle I can.' He decided it was probably best he didn't tell the doctor that he'd need to follow the highway and rivers to avoid getting lost since he'd only flown there a few times and always in clear weather...

As luck would have it the larger of their two refurbished Polish crop-dusters had just come through its regular checks the day before the rains had started and so had still been snugly tucked away in the hangar at the 'rocky' end of the Mgakera airstrip, so they at least had a nice dry start and no worries about having to get pushed out of mud before they even fired up the engine. Their destination, Gobengwe, was an ex-WW2 base from the old colonial days and had a rather ancient, but still viable concreted runway, so Luey was reasonably confident that they'd not have too much trouble getting there and back.

'There you go Chris - told you it wouldn't take too long.' Luey had done a quick low level pass to make sure there were no hazards on the Gobengwe strip and waggled their wings at the Mgakera Land Cruiser that was parked outside the large rambling shack that passed as Gobengwe's Air Traffic Control Tower and hangar.
'Good... Just tell me when it's safe to open my eyes again.' Christian was squeezing the hell out of his worry beads, head bowed.
Luey tutted softly and tried not to smile too much, even though his friend couldn't see him. 'Anyone would think you didn't rate my flying, mate. It's been smoother than your daughter's gorgeous little bottie all the way so far, so I'm not about to let you lose your breakfast now!' He started the descent, keeping her level and glanced over at the doctor to see his reaction.
'I didn't have any breakfast. If you see anything come up it'll be my supper!'
'Ingrate! OK. We're nearly there now... just one little bounce...'
The front wheels hit the deck and then a lighter bump as the back came down. 'Reckon you can risk a wave out of the window at Sully now! We're not on fire or anything... ouch!' Luey was having a good laugh until Christian thumped him on the arm.

'Looks like we've got a police escort.' Luey frowned slightly as he peered out of the windscreen. The rain was starting to tip down again, but Sully and another man in dark blue fatigues had got out of the Land Cruiser. Christian nodded but still hadn't got much to say for himself as they rolled up outside the ramshackle building.
Sully had waved to them and was opening the back door of the vehicle as Luey jumped down. He turned and to his delight saw Sophie running over to him.
'Hey, babe - am I pleased to see you!' He whispered in her ear after she'd finished kissing him and hugged her tight again, running his warm hands soothingly down the damp back and arm of her waterproofs, because she was sobbing with relief.
'It's been horrible not being able to get thuh - through to you!' Her voice was stumbling with fatigue... 'It was so awful Luey... the herdsman and all those elephants...'
'It's OK, babe. I'm here now, sweetheart.'
Sully had come up with the policeman who looked to be in his mid-thirties. 'Hey Sully - thanks for looking after her.' He clasped the driver's arm gratefully and gently turned Sophie around so she could see Christian was with him. 'I brought you some help see? And we've got some more med supplies in the hopper and there's more coming through tomorrow on the trucks. David and a couple of other guys left to get them at first light.'
'We've heard from Mgakera about the relief shipments this morning. Mr Ogilvy, isn't it? I'm Sergeant Mohammad Abdullah.' The policeman saluted him and then put out his hand. Luey took hold of it, a little taken aback at the formality, but the cop gave him a lopsided grin and turned to greet Christian who'd finally made it out of the cockpit and onto terra firma with evident relief.
'Dr. Kamate? My father would want me to pass on his regards. He'll be getting up here in the next day or so, but he says that you can rest assured we'll do everything we can to get the aid convoy through without any hitches - there'll be an extra squad coming in from Mwanza by then to meet them on the Uganda highway.'
The policeman kept talking as he saluted and shook hands with Christian, then turned back to Luey who was still hugging a shivering Sophie, trying to warm her up against the chill damp of the early morning. 'I'm afraid I have to break up your reunion for a little while longer, Mr. Ogilvy. I've had permission from Mrs. Beleshona to requisition you to pilot myself and Sully on some aerial recon - to see if we can pick up the trail of these killers from yesterday...'
Luey's head snapped around to look at Abdullah irritably. 'Not in this plane you can't - it's a two-seater. I can take you or Sully - not both.'
'That won't be necessary - we have a light aircraft in the hangar. A four seater.'
Luey was still frowning, but responded to that more positively. 'OK. But Sophie comes with us... What, babe?'
Sophie had backed away slightly, eyes wide and shaking her head. 'I can't. Got to get back to main camp with Christian - still so many people to see to, Luey. Sully's the one who knows the area best. I'll see you later though.' She patted his hand then let go as Christian came up to her. 'Work to do first, Tarzan!' Her smile was tired, but strong enough and so he nodded and reluctantly turned back to Abdullah.
'Let's have a look at this plane then, Sergeant.'

Sully had unloaded the supplies as they were talking and so Christian and Sophie went to help him get it all into the Cruiser while the Sergeant walked Luey over to the dilapidated hangar. There was an engineer inside who'd been running the checks for the Skyhawk and Luey's concentration was tied up with that for a little while; even though he was familiar with the model as he hadn't flown one since the late 90s. Once they were through, he found Sully and the policeman waiting patiently by the cabin steps.
'They couldn't wait - we'll see them later though.' Sully looked at him apologetically. Luey nodded quietly, looking past the driver at Sgt. Abdullah, standing impassively to the side.
'Well we've got about two hours fuel so it'll have to be short, whatever happens.' He gestured for them to get aboard and followed them up the steps.

Quickly he went through the final checks and turned to make sure Sully was settled beside him and finally to the cop in the rear seat.
'What's the flight plan, Sergeant?'
'If we could fly eastwards towards Duma Flats and Lake Tembo - Sully will direct you to the place where they first found the poachers and then we need to fly over the road they took back to the north west.'
'Will we be landing at all?' Luey asked as he started the engine up.
Sully shook his head. 'We won't be able to by the lake and then the road runs beside ravines a lot - we're looking for a crash site...'

* * * * *

The rains had stayed away from Burundi so far, something David was thankful for as they rolled up at the CAMEO depot near the airport at Bujumbura after a gruelling seven hours out from Mgakera. The naval transport plane had landed a little ahead of time and the CAMEO relief consignment had already been offloaded at the depot, so they had a reasonably quick turnaround and were back on the road north in the early afternoon with the ShelterBox[1] gear, supplemental food and fuel supplies to those they'd brought with them and half a dozen CAMEO disaster relief workers, two of whom were sitting up in the cab with him.

Once they'd cleared the traffic away from the outskirts of the capital and were heading upcountry they began to relax and get to know each other.  Abel and Maryam were both Malawian and were full of warm praise for the cargo of sturdy plastic boxes that were split between the three dragomans. They had helped to distribute them the year before, during severe flooding down in Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika. They were quick to reassure David when he expressed concern over there being enough boxes to go around when they got to Lake Tembo.
'The tents are big enough to shelter a family of ten people...' Maryam explained '... and just wait and see what's in them! Even the box is useful once it is emptied.'
'Well I'm very impressed with how quickly they got them over to the depot from the airport.'
'Oh no, David.' Abel smiled over at him. 'These were all in prepositioned storage already - the ones that came over on the Hercules all went off directly from the airport with the Response Team from the UK. Don't worry - we learned from them when they sent boxes over for the Kigoma floods and your local people can see to the NFI relief. These tents are really easy to get up and the other equipment's excellent - all you have to do is get us there in one piece.'
David shook his head and laughed softly. 'Well pray that the rains hold off when we get to Zyanda - it was looking like it was in a competition with Noah's Flood last night.'
'Forecast's not so bad.' Maryam said evenly. 'What was it like this morning up there?'
'A little lighter, but the sun didn't get through until well after ten. Means that we'll have dry roads over the worst part of the mountains, although I'm not too certain how it is on the road north of Rukare - we came in on the highway south-east of there. Not too many clouds then.'
'How long before we get to Tanzania?' Abel asked.
'Depending on the light and whether or when we get rain, between noon tomorrow or early the day after. Too risky to drive for long in the dark anyway.'

* * * * *

Luey eased back on the yoke and turned back westwards away from Lake Tembo, still flying quite low and following the barely discernible road trail that Sully and Sophie had driven along yesterday. The place that Sully had just shown them was frighteningly close to the islands that he was hoping to use for a rhino breeding project with a possible site for a small safari lodge and sitatunga reserve. For now all they could think of were the seventeen elephant carcasses that Sully was telling them the poachers had left behind. Four of those were very young calves who would have had negligible ivory. With mounting fury he listened to Sully talking about the now washed out trail that they had followed after retrieving the corpse of the unfortunate herdsman Okot Oduya.
'That's the end of the road we met you on yesterday sergeant, but they must have turned off and we missed it because of the rain.'
'Is there another road off this one?'
'Not exactly - but there's a narrow trail that leads up north to one of the old ensete[2] plantations and from there another, better road onto the Uganda highway.'
'They had a lorry though? As well as their land rover?" The policeman sounded tired now as well. Neither Sully nor he had got any sleep last night. "Would they have been able to drive them both through a bush trail?'
'Put it this way sergeant - I wouldn't drive anything bigger than a land cruiser on that road unless I really had to, especially not when it's this wet. It's very steep and narrow in places and I'm sure that the smoke we saw was in that region.'

As they had been talking Sully had been looking down trying to spot where this smaller trail snaked off. After a few more minutes he found what he'd been looking for.
'There! Go north east of that ravine on the right - the trail goes down and then up the other side away from this road.'
Luey peeled off as Sully had said. He could see the trail quite easily now as there was not so much tree cover on the steep sides of the river defile, before the little road zig-zagged up again and disappeared over the northerly ridge. Abdullah was craning his neck around following the line of the road they had just left and then turned to look out of the window on Sully's side of the Skyhawk.
'I think you're right about this road Sully. The spot we met overlooks that valley where we saw the smoke from the crash. How far ahead of you do you think they were?'
'In time? About an hour - not much more than that I'd say.'
'Would that tally with where we think they've gone down?'
'Could be - it would take them best part of that time to get to there on those gradients, especially in these conditions and if they weren't sure of the road...' They were rounding the ridge now and Luey's eyes followed the little road as it swung north-west back into the hills; then he cried out and flew away from the ridge into a wide circling pattern.
'There's your crash site, guys!'

Both vehicles had evidently failed to make a tight corner where the road had crumbled away and then nosedived into the ravine. The lorry had slipped right into the river, not far from a small stone bridge and the cab had all but disappeared into the swollen waters and lodged itself into a rocky cascade. The land rover was further back on higher ground and looked to be burned out.
Sgt. Abdullah was craning around Sully trying to get a better look. 'Can you fly in lower to get a better look please, Mr. Ogilvy?'
'Sure - and Luey's fine.' He manoeuvred smoothly and whistled as they all saw the extent of the wreckage. 'Doubt there's any survivors from that though!'

* * * * *

Sophie’s Diary:  Early Wednesday 7th November  ~  main Luo Encampment west of Lake Tembo

 2:30 a.m.- This has to rate as one of the worst nights of my entire life. Am so tired and it's likely we'll be up again in a few hours time. Glad we radioed Verity before we left the Lake after I'd patched up Ephraim. If the police hadn't been on their way up when the landslip hit then I think we'd have lost even more people. As it is there's still around 70 people pretty badly injured and about twice as many with minor stuff that have been seeing to themselves. We don't know what the death toll is yet, but only a half dozen for sure so far (not including poor Okot) and another eight people missing still, three of whom were likely not on the hillside.
Most of the encampment went down like matchsticks, but luckily the chapel's not too badly damaged and the school house beside it is as safe as it can be, though it's a little crumbly out in the yard. We've made a makeshift shelter for the badly hurt and the babies whose parents are missing in there anyway, with the chapel as our morgue for now.
Sully is an utter angel - I don't know what I'd have done without him. I was in a real panic when we first got here about an hour before sundown and saw the mess. The Methodist minister, Elias Llewellyn and his wife luckily have some med training and they'd started triage for the people they'd already got out of the debris, although they had bugger all to use in the way of bandages etc, as all his first aid stuff went down with his cabin. Mo and his guys were an absolute godsend - now I know why they carry these portable radio masts with them. They managed to get a generator going as well. They've been passing messages to Mgakera too and Verity is going to send Luey up in one of the crop dusters with more supplies early tomorrow. Can't wait for him to get here.
Will have to try and get some sleep now.

4 a.m. -  No good. Am doing this instead to pass the time and stop me going crazy, although I think this camping lamp battery's not got too much juice left in it.
5:30 a.m. - In the school hall again. Eli came to get me as an old woman was having a crisis. Nearly lost her, but have managed to stabilise again. Dehydration's going to be a big problem, but Mo says we can get some more clean water supplies when he goes to the Gobengwe airstrip this morning. I begged him to let me go with them too and he finally agreed - I really need to see Luey as I'm feeling a little shaken up with everything. Probably just knackered. Who wouldn't be?

'I'm worried about you, babe. Is it just because of all the drama and not much rest?' Luey drew Sophie gently to him on the back seat of the land cruiser that they'd flattened so it was a little more comfortable to stretch out on. They had been talking in hushed tones as Sully was crashed out in the front passenger seat, exhausted after being almost constantly on the move for over thirty-six hours. Sophie didn't answer straight away, relishing his warmth and really wanting to be able to relax and drift a little. Eventually she gave a little sigh and hugged him close so her head was cushioned into his neck and he wouldn't be able to look at her without shifting drastically.
'Yes. It's tiredness mostly I think. I was almost there as well before you started with the mother hen thing.' She gave his hand a gentle squeeze to show she was teasing. 'I hardly got a wink last night, but Chris made me have a quick snooze after lunch. Sully's the one you should worry about really - he was dead beat after you got back. He was out all night with the cops down at the generator shed trying to get some power back on.'
'Yeah - Mo said there's a load of damage there, but some of it's not completely U/S.' He kissed the top of her head gently and turned slightly, pulling her around as well so they were loosely spooned together for their mutual comfort, emotional as well as physical. 'I can't help it, babe. I was so worried about you last night.'
'I know. More than half my problem was that I wanted you here with me...'

She trailed off, shutting her eyes in surprise when a couple of fat tears suddenly welled up and escaped, the salt stinging as they rolled down her nose. Silently struggling to compose herself, she took a couple of deep breaths until she was sure her voice wasn't going to wobble.
'I nearly lost it when we found Okot and the ellies yesterday.'
'Sully said you were upset. I wish I could have been there for you - it's never nice to see what those b*stards do. And for them to have murdered someone as well.' He tried hard, but knew he'd failed to keep the venom out of his voice. Sophie tensed in his arms, so he lowered his lips to where her neck met her shoulder and murmured an apology into her skin. Gradually she relaxed back into him again. He wished he could slowly make love to her without having to talk and make things worse - even they'd been alone it wasn't the right time.

'What do you think of Mo?' Her question, seemingly out of nowhere, made Luey chuckle.
'I'm serious, Luey.' Sophie persisted, though she was smiling now. 'I thought you were going to punch him this morning when he said you had to pilot him.'
He grimaced with embarrassment, blushing furiously in the dark. 'Well... as a rule I try not to deck officers of the law within ten minutes of being introduced to them.' He got an elbow in the ribs for that and clasped her closer to him with an exaggerated whimper. 'I'll behave now, I promise!' He smiled, whispering in her ear.  '... He kinda grew on me when we got airborne after I heard about what happened when you met them yesterday afternoon.'
'That was really weird. He'd just run over to us and got in the cruiser - we could hardly see to drive by then with the rain, and then there was this massive bang echoing up the valley and then all that smoke.'
'Must have been the tank exploding - looked like both vehicles were total burnouts. He was really impressed with Sully - they didn't even know there was a road up there.'
'I think it's more a cart track that the Luo have been widening recently from what Eli was saying when we got back.' She paused a moment and then it all came out in a rush. 'But what I meant was - about Mo... It's really silly, but it's creeping me out that he's here now?'
'Why? He seems fine. Very efficient and he was singing your praises the whole time I was with him almost?'
Sophie cringed, then went on though she felt so daft. 'Yes I know - and I do like him, but... It's was just strange the way he greeted Chris? Like they'd met? He said something about his father, so...  on the way back here I asked Chris and that's when I got the creeps?' She let out a sigh and rubbed at her eyes which were feeling rather gritty from her earlier tears. 'I'm being stupid - forget it.'
'Oh no you don't, lady! Out with it, if it's bothering you.'
'Shush - you'll wake Sully...' The exhausted driver chose that moment to start snoring loudly and determinedly.
'Yeah, right! C'mon Quackers - you can't just leave it hanging now.' He brushed his hand gently through her hair and kept quiet then, letting her take her time.

Finally she told him about how the sergeant's father had been the chief investigating officer into Tom's and the other murders back in '94 and that Christian and Verity had met him several times since. Apparently Abdullah Snr. had been promoted to the regional command for the Western Lake District a few years back. Luey remained silent for about a minute, just stroking her arm and shoulder gently until the tension left her and then spoke soothingly.
'You've had a hard few days, love - no wonder you're feeling jittery.'
He felt her nod slightly and, reaching up a finger to stroke her face, found it was wet. Saying nothing he shifted and sat up, propping himself against the door, gently pulling her up and back into him as he went, then cradled her head into his shoulder again.
'Will you tell me the rest of it now, babe? I know you've had something on your mind for over a week now, so don't try and brush me off.'
'Since when were you psychic?' Her voice was calm enough anyway, but he kissed her hair, knowing she was still crying.
'Hey! Bluff macho Zim guy here. Nothing psychic about me. Just noticed you were going easy on the beer and wine on my birthday? Trust me - I'm an animal doctor and I can usually tell when females are in season.' She laughed a little and he smiled into the night. 'Have you done a test yet, Sophie?'
'No. Not yet.'
'Why the hell not, silly woman?' His voice was soft and full of affection now and he waited patiently for her to tell him why, half-knowing the answer.
'Too early. Well it was. I was going to do it this morning actually, but... Well you know.'
'Things happened and it didn't seem too important? But it's been nagging away in there anyway?' He sighed then and turned so he could look at her. She rolled into him and tried to evade his gaze but he put his fingers under her chin and turned her back gently, dipping his head to kiss her briefly on the lips.
'Do it first thing in the morning, Soph. Before I have to go back to Mgakera. We can radio Verity and have them ready to refuel me so I can come back with more supplies, just in case David doesn't make it over tomorrow afternoon. Mo wants me here again anyway if we can get down to the killing ground at the weekend.'
'I didn't want to tell you until I was sure. The last time ended so...' He silenced her with another, slightly longer, deeper kiss.
'Last time you were sick. Really sick. This time it'll be different, babe. I love you and I know what this means to you - means to both of us come to that.'
As he finished talking the clouds were covering the rabbit in the moon and the rains started in earnest once more, so they snuggled back down onto the seats and pulled the blankets over them.

* * * * *

Eli and Christian were taking the night shift over at the school house, talking softly over Sophie's hastily scrawled notes and Christian's updates. Apart from the rain hammering down on the corrugated roof it had been a quiet evening. They'd been able to stabilise everyone that afternoon, putting the worst cases onto drips, which meant that everybody could now relax a little and get some rest, knowing their severe cases were sufficiently hydrated. As it was Christian had had to call on Luey to drag Sophie away that evening, having already practically yelled at Sully to go and get some rest when he all but collapsed on them a few hours after they got back from Gobengwe.
'I hope the sergeant got back before the rain started again.' Eli's usually strong voice was subdued. Christian looked up from the desk and tried to sound reassuring.
'Mo's very sensible - don't worry about him. He wasn't going to be driving.'
'I know, but those men could still be at large. We don't know for sure how many there were - Ephraim cannot be sure that he saw them all...'
'Did he not? I thought they were at their camp.'
'They did, but they only saw the big truck - there were four men there for sure, but there could have been more out in the rover.' Eli Llewellyn was an old time Methodist preacher and had known Christian for nearly thirty years, ever since he had started school. The doctor had rarely seen the minister this low before, but then he had close family hurt in the slip - Sophie had only just been able to save Eli's sister-in-law last night.
'You think they may have been with the same gang that were seen last month?' Christian asked, raising an eyebrow. There had been some trouble at Gobengwe market where blows had been exchanged and one man had his jaw badly fractured.
'Maybe - those men were driving a land rover as well.'

'But there are lots of land rovers - Mo will find out more when he comes back tomorrow.' If the flooding started to recede the police were hoping to get to where the poachers had set up camp as soon as they could, though how much of the grisly scene would be left to inspect was debatable. For now Christian tried to reassure the clergyman. 'Some of our people who are coming in with the dragomans have experience with tracking - Luey too, so I'm sure they'll be able to help the police account for all the murderers.'
Eli nodded, trying to look positive. 'Maybe they have already paid for their sins, but it is wild country out there.' Plenty of places to hide with the deluge wiping out their trail...

* * * * *

 

And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit... and the sun and the air were darkened... And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power...

Book of Revelation 9:3 and 11 (King James version)

 

The explosion had echoed in his dreams when he had finally sunk into a rest even more troubled than usual. Jules lay huddled and shivering feverishly in the dilapidated storage hut that stood near the old plantation drying sheds and tried to order his thoughts for what came next. Of his injuries, the cuts and burns on his legs were now causing the most concern as they had stiffened up during the night and he still had several miles to travel to reach their other vehicle. He knew he couldn't chance going off-trail in his condition, so he'd have to risk it and keep to the easier gradients of the road. Maybe they'd have called off the air search after they'd seen the vehicles yesterday. The rain had eased off again after first light and if he took it slowly, trying to keep to the brush cover beside the track where he could, then he ought to make it by nightfall OK.

He stroked the long muddy canvas package beside him. Ditching the ivory wasn't really an option he was prepared to take just yet. Even though the rest of it was lost now, these two matched tusks would be enough to clear his debts when he made it back to Zyanda and maybe stake the hire of another crew. That was the least of his worries though. First he had to get to their camp in these damned hills and then find someone to patch him up.

* * * * *



[1] ShelterBox ~ an international disaster relief organisation founded in Helston, Cornwall in the UK, specialising in emergencies where shelter is an issue. They supply boxes containing tents, basic toolkits, multi-fuel stove, cooking and water purification equipment, blankets and warm clothing - and a children's drawing pack.

[2] Ensete ventricosum or Ensete livingstonianum ~ also known as the false banana tree is cultivated primarily in north eastern Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, but found as far south as the Transvaal and westwards into the highland jungles and lakes of central Africa. Its green fruits are inferior in taste to true bananas but the rest of the tree, especially the roots, have a variety of uses including feed for livestock and fibre for rope and baskets, so it has been farmed as a staple crop for centuries, most recently in combination with coffee or tea. The tree itself was a feature in murals in Ancient Egyptian temples depicting the goddess Isis.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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Sophie’s Diary:  Thursday 8th November  ~  main Luo Encampment

 Death count's gone up to 77 but the good news is that Mo picked up the 3 guys who'd hitched to Rufighebwe market at the weekend, so they're safe and back with their families. The other 5 people who went missing had been out trying to shore up some mature Arabica shrubs down near the bridge and got caught in the main slide, so they'd been buried under a load of rubble. The river level's up again too and the pontoons are either gone or beyond repair, so the only way in for the foreseeable is from the north.

David and the other drivers got in about 3 o'clock this afternoon with some more CAMEO personnel - just as well as it started to pour again just after sundown. We sent the emergencies off to the hospital in Rufi as soon as we'd got a dragoman offloaded. The boxes of tents they've brought over are marvellous - so easy to put up and the equipment packed in with them is brilliant. Nearly all the able-bodied and some of the less injured have been able to get under canvas, so it's just the bed rest cases in the school and chapel now.

Luey flew back to Mgakera around noon, but he's coming back tomorrow because Mo wants to do another aerial check over the crash site and then see if they can land over at the Lake where Okot was killed. David's going to take the Land Cruiser down there too - Sully's busy helping Eli with the burials now.

And it's official - I'm pregnant. Luey's really pleased, although it's such bad timing with how things are here...

'Sergeant Abdullah?' He shook the tall policeman's hand firmly. 'I'm David Mukuga. Sorry to miss you yesterday.'
'Pleased to meet you Mr. Mukuga. And no problem - I was caught up with paperwork over identifications and taking more statements for the poaching incident.' He smiled ruefully at the gangling Matu. 'Change of plan for today though - I'd like to come down with you in the cruiser to the airstrip while the Mwanza squad go on down to Lake Camp please. I understand you know the area up around the old ensete plantation quite well?'
David coloured slightly. 'Yes - I used to go hunting up there back in the '90's...'
'Well - it's been all but deserted in the borders for nearly a decade now. Don't worry - this has nothing to do with what happened in Zyanda, although we think some of these hyænas may be ex-militia. Or rather may have been - looks like they got wiped out already.'
'Sully told me about the crash last night.'
'Yes - if any of them did survive it they're likely in bad shape, so I want to make sure we can account for them all and check that they didn't have another camp up there.'
'There were some old buildings in and around the periphery of the plantation they might have been using - would it help if I came up with you and Luey?'
Mo's smile came back broader than ever. 'I was just about to invite you along! Luey said you've had some experience as a tracker too?'
'Some - mostly for game though.' David said quietly. That was true enough, despite his earliest experiences with two-legged prey.
'Let's get going then - Luey said he'd leave at sunrise and I want to make sure the Skyhawk's ready to go a.s.a.p.'

* * * * *

 

Mo had talked some more with David Mukuga on the way down and, despite the man's reserve he was pleased that Mrs. Beleshona had agreed to let him be co-opted onto the police search team as he seemed very capable. That the man probably had a less than squeaky clean record sheet was not something that worried Mo - Sophie, Christian and Sully had all impressed him these last few days and they obviously regarded David as a seasoned professional, even if his so-called military experience was dubious. Mo was also glad they'd come down early as the mechanic had still been asleep about ten minutes before they heard the throaty throb of the crop-dusters engine.

Despite not getting too much rest the past three nights, Luey was keen to get on with things and so the fifteen minute wait for the flight checks to be done saw him pacing around outside the hangar like a caged lion, leaving David a little puzzled as to what was bothering him so much.
'Hey, relax my friend - a few more minutes won't make much difference will it?'
Luey shook his head abruptly, then cracked a smile finally. 'Sorry mate. I'm just keen to get this over with so I can go and see Sophie.'
David laughed sympathetically. 'Well I guess she's looking forward to seeing you as well Luey - she was grumpy as hell yesterday evening when we were told the police wanted to be up early to go over to the Lake.'
As he was talking Mo appeared at the doorway to the hangar and beckoned them over. 'We're good to go now.'

Ten minutes later and they were back over the crash site, which wasn't that far from the airstrip. Luey circled a few times, gradually getting lower as David got his bearings and had a good look at the two vehicles.
'They didn't have too much rain over this side yesterday so the river level's gone down. Better than it was on Wednesday anyhow.' Mo's deep voice was calm and measured. 'We can see where the road slipped better today - it must have come down at the same time that Main Camp went.'
'Same aftershock probably - there was one about that time on the Zyanda side of the plateau as well.' David had been listening to the local radio almost non-stop since leaving Bujumbura. 'Luckily not many people live up there, so there wasn't much damage and there's less topsoil to slip on that side.' He turned to look back at Mo who was once again relegated to the back seat. 'Looks like the truck may have ignited as well, but the rain and splash-back from the river may have doused it - I'd need to get a closer look.'
'You'll get it. First though I want to get a look at those other buildings and see if there's any signs of activity there.'
'OK - Luey if you follow the trail up the other side of the ravine heading west north west roughly, there's some outbuildings in the next valley.'

They were nearing the Uganda highway, having flown over some of the old drying sheds when they spotted the main farm building nestling amongst some false banana trees, but the north slopes had coffee bushes planted so they got a good view of the end of the trail and the better road that led out of the plantation.
'You want me to get us in real low, Mo?'
'Circle it high and wide first, Luey, then go in for a closer look.'
All three of them craned to see the ground as they banked over the farm buildings. Suddenly David gave a low whistle and jabbed his finger at a clump of ensete not far from the tumbledown house and the telltale glinting of a headlight mirror in the sunlight breaking through the morning mists.
'Looks like another land rover!'

* * * * *

In the end the decision was simple. As soon as they landed back at Gobengwe Mo radioed back to police HQ in Rufighebwe for his team to set up a road block on the main road out of the old plantation and then to send a car down the northern trail to the crash site if they discovered the farm was deserted. He'd brought two AKs in the vehicle and Luey, as promised had brought his hunting rifle with him, so they wasted no more time and roared off in the land cruiser, heading for the ravine to check out the wrecks and look for signs of any survivors. It all depended on how many bodies they could find, as only four men had been seen by Ephraim who had all been at the lake with the truck, and of course there could have been more he hadn't seen. There had been the definite sighting of seven pugnacious strangers in Gobengwe market, but again that wasn't conclusive. It mostly depended on whether they'd all gone off hunting elephant, but Mo couldn't be a hundred per cent sure until the team confirmed whether the farm was clear.

'Well - this was an engine fire for definite, Mo.'  David shook his head as the three of them stepped away from the shell of the rover, which had rolled over mostly onto the driver's side. The tank was intact and two of the four bodies in the vehicle had only superficial burns. 'Once the canvas went up the rain would have put the fire out, so these two must have suffocated if they didn't die in the impact.'
The driver and the man behind him were charred, but had been partially thrown forward, so had almost certainly been killed outright, which left the front seat passenger. He had gone through the windscreen and his mangled corpse could be seen about ten yards down the slope. Predators and vultures had already moved in and the flies were busily at work at the remnants as the sun rose higher in the sky, burning off the last of the mists left by the rainfall. The ground was already drying out, but the smell of smoke and burnt rubber filled the air still.
'So it must have been the truck's tank that blew up then?' Luey asked the question, but they were all gazing down at the river bed at the other vehicle.
'Looks that way - the noise alone would have meant an explosion...' Mo's voice was thoughtful and he looked back up the trail. 'Would the rover have been in front if they were in convoy do you think David?'
'Could be - there's more slippage higher up, so the rover might have gone down ahead, but the trail probably crumbled in both places at once.' David looked uphill again, trying to picture the descent of the lorry from the scarred brush and debris on the slope to the river about a hundred and fifty metres farther down from where they stood. 'Yeah - must have been. The rover had just started to turn on the corner and it looks like the lorry went down about twenty metres back from that.'
Mo nodded, noting some impact damage where it looked like some glass had shattered away from where the rover would have rolled. 'OK - I think that there were no survivors from this one with all the doors being intact or crushed. Let's go get our feet wet I suppose...'

They walked onto the part of the trail below the land rover that hadn't collapsed and carefully made their way down to the river. It was still running fast, but the level had subsided somewhat and the water now barely made it up past the concertinaed hood to the footbrakes of the truck, with what was left of the flatbed clear of the river altogether. What load there had been on the lorry was gone, although some of the tarpaulin had snagged on the brush or tangled on rocks nearby. Mo and David were having a good look at the area around the tank, which had definitely blown but wasn't quite ringing true for them.
Luey decided to leave them to it and made his way down the bank a little to see if he could find anything that might have been blown clear, or washed away downstream. The river broadened into shallows, though still bloated around the bend and he spotted some twisted remains of part of the tank, half stranded on a gravelly spit. He quickly checked for signs of crocs or hippos and then waded slowly out to the strand and kicked at the charred metal a little. As he looked around him he spotted a thin streak of dirty white caught under a boulder and some rope flapping in the water churning past it. Further investigation revealed a broken piece of elephant tusk about six inches long. Swiftly he scrabbled at it and found the rope had also wrapped itself around the same rock. Having liberated his trophies, he splashed back onto the bank and made his way back to the others.

'Look what I found guys!' Luey hailed them, holding up the rope in one hand and the ivory in the other.
'Was the rope cut?' Mo was propped up on the door of the cab and holding himself steady with another length still tied to its housing.
'Yeah! Yours too?'
'Yup!'

'So what have we got here d'you think, David? You're sure there was no fire in the engine or cab?' Mo was frowning now as they sat on a rock in the sun, drying off a little after poking around in the submerged parts of the truck.
'If there was, between the river and the rain it would likely have gone out very quickly. Only signs of scorching are on the tarps and in the flatbed, so I'd say the tank must have been set off deliberately. And someone cut those ropes so the load would break loose for sure - the river was definitely over the cab end of the flatbed at one stage.'
'Well you've got your seven corpses - they're all accounted for aren't they?' Luey sighed, sweeping his fingers through his half-dried hair. He was beginning to fret about getting back to Main Camp and Sophie.
'Maybe - but both doors were open and the cab could easily hold more than two people.' Mo scratched his chin absently. 'The passenger door wasn't too damaged in the crash and the window was down, so it could have been opened fairly easily afterwards. The seat belts hadn't been used...'
'Or were undone.' David had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. The two bodies they'd found, one of them the driver probably, had most likely died on impact but hadn't been carried away in the flood, though their corpses had been swept into the lower corner of the cab. 'Someone had to have been alive after it hit the river. Those two wouldn't have been able to cut ropes or stuff a burning rag in the fuel tank.'
'So there had to have been one survivor at least from this wreck, if not from the land rover you think?' Mo got a sour nod from David and got to his feet with a grunt of frustration. 'Why blow the tank up? It's crazy!'
'Not necessarily...' David head was bowed and he was examining the length of rope Luey had found. 'During the genocide... sometimes when we had a vehicle crash, we used to torch it - so no one else could take it. Or think nobody had escaped, if we lost any people...'

* * * * *

Luey was all for going back to the land cruiser and Main Camp, but Mo decided they should inspect the far bank and up as far as the ridge to see if they could find any other signs of a survivor, reasoning that even if there had been, they may not have been able to get away too quickly if they had been injured in the crash.
'No point in looking for signs here after all the rain that's fallen - the trail on the other side's more sheltered though and we might pick up on something.' Mo was obviously determined to eliminate all possibilities, so David and Luey followed him up to the nearby bridge without further argument.

Their progress was silent and sweaty as the gradient was quite steep, until David found some muddy slippage and beaten down brush near the trail, where the terrain got even tougher and overgrown.
'Could have been an animal, but some of this looks as though it's been pulled on rather than broken...' He looked around him carefully and then examined the ground even more thoroughly. Luey was about to press for them to move on, when David spotted some more disturbed earth right below an overhanging rock and gave a cry of satisfaction. 'Partial boot print! That must have been made recently... The boulder would have maybe stopped this getting too wet.'

They'd just set off up the trail again when they heard an engine in the distance.
'That could be my men, but we'd better get off the road just in case.' said Mo. They hunkered down about ten metres off trail, well screened from above by mopane scrub.
'Well it's certainly a land rover.' David murmured as the vehicle drew nearer.
'Would your guys have got here this quickly, Mo?' Luey asked, wondering if he should start loading his rifle.
'Depends on what they found, but yeah - could be them. Load up anyway - we might not have much more time.'
Barely a minute later the vehicle crested the ridge and, mercifully, was police force navy. Even so Mo waited until he could see who was inside before he let them break cover and hail the land rover.
'Well you guys have saved us a long walk! What did you find at the farm?'

The answer was nothing and nobody, so with the road block in place and the poachers' other land rover having nowhere to go, they'd decided to scout down as far as the old outhouses by the drying sheds. What they found on the way confirmed that they'd found a fresh trail and evidence of a survivor from the crash.
Mo looked speculatively at the bloodied canvas covering the ivory. 'They wouldn't have ditched these unless they'd really had to - they have to weigh more than fifteen kilos each.'
Luey gave a low whistle. 'That's a lotta tusk - must have come off a big cow too.'
'And they were armed still - they found some AK casings at the scene as well. We haven't got an experienced tracker so I'd like to take David with us. You can come if you want Luey, but I can't guarantee we'll come back this way too soon unless we find them quickly.'
'You reckon there'd be no one else who stuck around here?'
'I doubt it, Luey.' David answered. 'This is too heavy to carry that far if they had an AK as well - even if there were two of them. I think they'd make for their other camp and the vehicle with this. There can't have been more than four people in that truck.'
'OK - I'll go back to the cruiser then. Where do you want me to meet up with you, Mo? Gobengwe or Main Camp?'
Mo thought quickly. 'Main Camp - I'll want to talk to the herdsmen again. I'll bring David back with me.'
'Take care guys.'

* * * * *

He'd started off well, but the rain had done nothing to cool his fever and now he just felt hot and giddy. Jules rested again, his breath sawing and his legs screaming agony. He knew there was at least another three more miles to go and it was well after noon now. Spending yet another night out here was not an option - he had to get to the abandoned farm before sundown. If only the rain would stop. The noise of it dripping through the trees made his head ache and stung his eyes as it mingled with his sweat, so everything was blurring in front of him. There were other, quieter noises as well, but he paid no attention as he limped onwards again, hardly caring whether he left a trail to follow or not now.
Yellow-green eyes watched Jules through dark branches, paying no heed to the rain and slippery bark as it crouched high up. Perfectly camouflaged, the black panther simply waited for the interloper to come to him.

* * * * *

'It must have been a leopard I think. Lions get confused with how to kill animals on two legs - they tend to eviscerate first, rather than go for the throat.' David had noted the gouges on the shoulders and upper body and, with the number of trees on this part of the trail a leopard could have easily attacked the poacher from above.
'Well - whatever it was didn't make a good meal of him.' Mo was holding the AK which they picked up about a hundred metres from where his men had found the ivory and shell cases. 'He let off a few rounds before it brought him down anyway.'
'Wildfire - I doubt he was aiming, let alone hit it. Pretty sure it must have got him very quickly - some of those blood spots on the canvas were arterial. From the size of the bites to the throat it was probably a male. I guess it must have dragged him off while he was still holding the AK.'
'Big, strong brutes, leopards. Not an easy way to go - but appropriate, some would say.'
David frowned and shrugged unhappily . 'Who knows what his story was. In different times that could have been me lying there.'
'That was then. You made different choices than this one did, I think.'

* * * * *

Sophie’s Diary:  Friday 9th November  ~  main Luo Encampment

The extra CAMEO people have helped a lot. Chris and I were really knackered yesterday and poor Eli was on the verge of collapse with the additional anxiety for his family - his son was one of those who'd gone off to Rufi and he was worried sick about him.
Luey finally got in about 2 pm, having been off with Mo and David all morning and then he had trouble trying to turn the cruiser around. Poor thing - he had to reverse uphill on that tiny track nearly back to the top road before he could go into forward gear again! But at least he got here well before dark. Chris practically ordered me to take a few hours off and rest, which cheered Luey up no end. He had great fun showing off his camping skills putting up one of the tents for us and made me a lovely mug of tea on the little wood stove in the box. Did us both good to have a rest and a little privacy as well - I forget how much it takes out of you when there's so much to do and so many people to look after, even if they're really quiet and still stunned like most of the people here are, whether or not they were injured.
We'd just started to have our supper when Mo got back with David and a new corpse for the morgue. They were both ravenous so we finished eating with them before I went off with Chris to do a quick and dirty autopsy after Ephraim had identified the dead man as one of the poachers who'd shot at him and Okot...

'You're certain that the burns and lower wounds were there first?' Mo sounded exhausted now the adrenalin rush had faded.
'Uh-huh.' Sophie nodded. 'If you look at these cuts on his thigh here... See how they've seared and puckered and the cuts vary in depth and spacing? That's similar to wounds I've seen on soldiers who've been in IED
[1] incidents; so I'd guess these were done by burning metal shrapnel from the tank explosion, where he didn't get out of the way quickly enough maybe?'
'And they are older than the bite wounds on the upper body and throat.' Christian spoke softly. 'By one or two days probably, looking at the swelling and infection.'

Sophie was looking anxiously at Mo as he was talking and stepped back to grab two chairs. Bringing them back to the make-do slab, she reached up a gentle hand to the sergeants' shoulder. 'Time out for you, Sarge! Can you get us some water please, Chris - we skimped on that at supper and I need another drink too.' She sat down with Mo and smiled at him. 'You've had a long day - you can afford to relax now. You got your man and all the others are gone as well.'
'But how did it take him so long to get to where he was found? It couldn't have been more than five miles away from where they crashed?'
'There's not just the burns and metal wounds - he has bruising all over that was probably done when they crashed - and I'm pretty sure he must have broken some ribs as well, so there might be internal injuries. I'm actually surprised he got as far as he did with what he was carrying.'
'So how recent do you think the bite wounds are?'
'Probably two days at most, but the examiner in Rufi will be able to give a more definite conclusion on that for you. Did you say that he may have sheltered somewhere for a time?'
'Yes - there was an old shed near the road over the hill from where they crashed.'
'Well here's my best guess then. I think he was running high on adrenalin after the crash, and his injuries didn't start to bother him until he got away from the truck. From what Luey told me about the road out of the ravine, he'd probably have taken several hours, even the next day, to get as far as the shed, and probably he'd have had to rest there for some time too. ' She paused as Christian re-joined them and took a welcome sip of chilled water from the temporary meds infirmary they'd set up yesterday. With a smacking of freshly moistened lips she went on. 'So - assuming he'd been trying to make the old farm since the Tuesday afternoon, and judging by how clean the exposed bite wounds are, he probably got attacked yesterday at some stage. Before it stopped raining anyway.'
'Yeah - that would fit I suppose.' Mo smiled at her slowly. 'At least Ephraim has given us a positive identification.'
'So this chap is the one who killed Okot you think?'
'Almost certainly - if the bullets you took out of him match the one for the AK we found today. We'll be sending this one to Mwanza for a full autopsy and the forensics will be done there too. If the follow-ups we're having done on some of their ID we found back at the farm pan out, this gang could have been part of a much bigger network that's been operating in Rwanda and Uganda as well. Orders from the DC's office - we don't want them thinking Tanzania's an easy target.'
'No - it would be horrible if they tried to move in on somewhere like Gombe Stream
[2].'

* * * * *

When Sophie left Christian talking to Eli and got back to the tent an hour or so later, Luey, David and Sully were waiting for her.
'You didn't all have to wait up!'
'We wanted to, babe.' Luey gave up the camp chair for her and stopped to kiss the top of her head before reaching into an ice bag and handing her a can of cola with a sly wink. 'Verity packed a goody bag for us!'
She smiled wistfully at the cans of lager they were drinking, but relished the first frothy mouthful. 'Well I doubt the caffeine will keep me from sleeping tonight. Are we all in here?'
David and Luey exchanged sneaky glances and David answered her. 'Sully and I are off to the cruiser in a minute - we need a bit of luxury seating after running around after poachers and grumpy pastors all day.'
'Eli's been stressing about getting the Muslim dead seen to properly.' Sully said. 'He was worried about getting them all buried before the weekend - took me a while to get it across to him that Allah will understand if this cannot be done quickly.'
'Poor man - he's had such a lot on his plate with his son and his wife's family as well.' Sophie replied thoughtfully.
'Well things are getting sorted - I'm amazed at the difference here since yesterday even. Those CAMEO guys that came over with David and the other drivers are amazing - getting all those tents up. At least everyone can get under cover now and the kit that comes with these boxes is pretty impressive.' Luey was sitting on the floor holding Sophie's free hand as she sipped her drink, trying not to make too much of a show of trying to get rid of the two drivers.

Soon enough David wanted to get some sleep, so he and Sully left them to it. Sophie gave Luey a relieved smile, but was blushing quite brightly.
'I thought they'd never go... Can you have a look at the back of my waist please - I think a botfly's got me!'
Luey burst out laughing. 'I thought you were squirming around a lot at supper! Sure it wasn't a mozzie?'
'Definitely not - there's quite a big bump by the feel of it...' She was rapidly peeling off her outer garments as she spoke, much to Luey's amusement as he went round behind her to examine the afflicted skin. 'I put some anti-histamine on it just before you got back here and that stopped the itching, but it started again at supper. It's been driving me insane!'
'Have these knickers of yours been wet? I've told you about getting your laundry ironed - flies love clean wet clothes.' He gently prodded the angry red bump then patted her bottom comfortingly. 'No worries - definitely not a mozzie. Looks like a putzi fly[3] probably.'
'They're clean on this morning, thank you!' Sophie protested furiously. 'But it did rain hard after dawn and I got soaked running from the cruiser to the school. I put the cream on as soon as it started itching - in fact I swear I felt the little devil chomping on me!'
Luey was still crouched behind her, having moved the lamp closer for a better look. He was having some trouble holding back the hilarity, but managed not to laugh out loud. 'OK babe, I believe you. Good news is I think you killed it already - I can see its little butt sticking out - want me to take it out now?'
Sophie exhaled explosively. 'Yes! YES! Get it the hell out of me!'
'Don't panic - I'm a dab hand with putzis! You got some antiseptic wipes in your wash bag?'
'Yes! Hurry up! There's tweezers in there too.' She was wriggling impatiently now and Luey grinned to himself as he went through her things.

'There you go - all done!' He wiped the boil clean and then liberally applied some more of the anti-histamine that Sophie had fished out of her jacket pocket. 'Want to have a look at the monster?' He'd put the tweezers and the maggot on another camp chair while he finished ministering to her. He held it out for inspection.
'Is that all it bloody is!' Sophie's eyes narrowed to steely blue slits as she glared at the tiny larva, not even as big as a grain of rice. This time Luey couldn't keep it in and roared with laughter.
'TIA Soph! It's only a baby remember - and even little things can cause a load of grief down in the deepest darkest parts of the Great Incontinent...'
'I hate you, Luey Ogilvy.' Sophie sulked adorably and he pulled her into his arms with a happy smile plastered all over his face.
'Well our little one's going to cause you at least as much pain and irritation as this guy did - but I'll be here to help you with that too.'
'Damn right you will!' She smiled up at him and kissed his stubbly chin. 'Thanks for getting it out for me love.'
'You're welcome, sweetheart.' He kissed the tip of her nose and sighed with contentment. 'Now - how about grabbing some kip. I'm feeling tired as hell after all that running around in the gorge and nearly twisting my neck off getting out of it.'
'OK - I'll even massage your poor shoulders for you before we go to sleep.'
'Pure genius - just what I was hoping you'd say...'




[1] IED ~ Improvised Explosive Devices or roadside bombs

[2] Gombe Stream National Park ~ the smallest of Tanzania's National Parks is the place made famous by Dame Jane Goodall and her pioneering study of chimpanzees.

[3] Putzi Fly ~ the female will often lay eggs in damp clothing. When the maggot hatches it bites the wearer and feeds just under the skin raising a boil which can become enlarged, painful and itchy. The maggot does not burrow too far into the host as it leaves an air hole to breathe and expel its waste. Ironing destroys the egg, but if a boil develops the maggot can be killed by blocking the air hole, either by bathing or sealing it with something like medicated cream.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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alias author Jan Hawke

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  Quote Jano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jan 2013 at 9:43pm

Omega and Alpha

 

Solstice Day, 21st December, Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Luey slipped his hands around Sophie's thickening waist and kissed her gently where her shoulder met her neck.
'Alone at last, Mrs. Ogilvy Taylor. Much as I love your family...' He gave up talking and nibbled softly on her ear.
'Well - you covered your impatience very well, Mr. Taylor Ogilvy...' Sophie's fingers grazed his warm cheek then tangled lazily in his thick dark hair, holding him to her.

The sun was fast descending to the hazy tree-lined horizon and still they stood in silence on the veranda, holding each other and watching the failing light stain the lake in constantly moving  jewelled tints of aquamarine, apricot and glinting palest gold. Finally Luey spoke low and loving.
'I never thought I'd say there's a place lovelier than Kariba at sunset, but...'
Sophie silenced him again with a brief kiss and then laughed softly. 'Ah - but you get your money's worth in the tropics! See - blink and you'll miss the sunset.'
'Well - that's the equator for you, I guess. All maximum spin and no messing about with silly seasons. Still beautiful, if brief.' He smiled at her and stepped back a pace. 'Let's sit out here a while, shall we? See if Hugo comes up to pay his respects to my beautiful bride?'
Hugo was a very old, very grumpy hippo that Claire had warned them about conscientiously the day they arrived but, so far, he had failed to appear on their lawn and justify his reputation. Sophie nodded and took his hand to lead the way over to the swing bench and the table, where they'd left the last of the champagne that her parents and Harry had brought over from the hotel to the small party after the ceremony in Claire's garden.
'I also like your family's presents. Tasty as well as practical.' Luey poured them both orange juice cooling in the ice bucket and then added some fizz to his glass.
'Spontaneity has its advantages - bringing the wedding forward was a lucky decision with Old Mother Lucas cutting up rough and demanding to see her grandkids for Christmas! And it was good that they could give Verity a lift back to Nairobi.'
'I also love rich relatives. Claire and Grant are included in that by the way - this house is exquisite!'
'I still prefer our little nook in Umbeke - just the right size for a small family...'
'Talking of which, how's our little darling doing?' He put his hand on Sophie's tummy and rubbed gently. She laughed at him.
'Nothing happening in there just yet. No stirrings for another month or so.'
'But some sensation is starting - can't begin with the stimuli too soon, Doctor!'
She put both hands on his and smiled happily.

They fell into companionable silence again, sipping their drinks and watching the distant silhouettes of pelicans and darters on their way to roost, flying low over the darkening water that was just beginning to shimmer as the waxing moon rose high in the early night sky. After a while Luey took her left hand and brought it to his lips, then held it out for them both to admire their rings, which were finally in unity.
'You are a very clever lady, Mrs. Ogilvy Taylor!' He murmured, his voice replete with contentment. 'I thought that Harry would be teasing me forever over getting designer rings, but nobody in the whole world has anything like these. I love them almost as much as I love you...'
She snuggled into him as he spoke and his voice trailed off as he stroked her hair with his other hand.
'Baobab's are magic and precious - like you are to me.' She whispered. 'My tanzanite ring is very special, but it has too many sad memories. I needed to move on and make a statement. These ones are full of potential and built to last. Gold and diamonds from Tanzania. Our first home.'

Her engagement ring was a plain gold band with a larger, roughly oval shape in the centre resembling the cross-section of a baobab fruit. It held a dozen 'seeds' each containing a tiny diamond that glittered in the moonlight. The ring Luey wore had the same central design, standing slightly proud of alignment on one side of a wider band than Sophie's, which was etched to look like the gnarled bark of the magic tree. Their wedding rings were again simple bands, but reversed, so Sophie's had the bark effect and Luey's was plain. They both slotted onto the engagement rings exactly, so they sat as one on the finger and would turn together.
David had given her the idea after he'd driven them out one afternoon, to a small lake a few miles out of Mgakera to look at malachite kingfishers, egrets and shoebills amongst other birdlife. On the way back they'd stopped at a little village where some enterprising local had set up a bottle shop in the hollows of an enormous baobab and David had regaled them with various stories about the magic tree that held water even when rivers dried, and nurtured life sustaining fruit and seeds. It also got her thinking about Syamenga's tales in Kariba and how the souls of the ancestors inhabited the baobab's branches, so they could continue to look after the living.

A light wind off the lake stirred the leaves on the trees. Luey turned and looked at her again.
'Have you been thinking about names again, babe?' She smiled but didn't answer yet, so he went on. 'I've been having a bit of a ponder. If we have a boy, would you like to call him Tom? It's my father's middle name as well.'
Sophie's eyes widened, but her lips curved with pleasure and he gave a small sigh of relief.
'That's a lovely idea - if you're sure?' She answered and he grinned back at her in delight.
'You get to choose a girl's name then!'
'How does Teresa sound?'
'Perfect... Surname can be Taylor-Ogilvy - bibis first and all that!'

They laughed happily and after a while went inside to continue their wedding night.

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment ~ Henry David Thoreau
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