As I lay next to her in the ‘0’ dark 30 which comes long before even the earliest of the roosters of Lusaka begin to crow, I thought how Claudia made up for me breaking one of my relationship rules. Rule one was never have a girlfriend younger than 10 years, or older by five. Rule two, never have a girlfriend more than 20 minutes away. In Claudia’s case she fitted well within the bottom of the brackets of rule one, but she certainly didn’t conform to a 20 minute travel time to access her benefits. This was even if I extended it, seeing as I no longer drink the beer which would have been her competition if she had been more than 20 minutes away and I was faced with an impulse choice.
Claudia made up for rule two with the curviness of her comforts. I have never had a girlfriend whose figure fitted into mine like the inter-locking of two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle when we spoon together. And even more importantly, she did not mind my snoring. She had my permission to dig me in the ribs if I was laying on my most noisy back, thereby signaling for me to roll onto my quieter side.
In the long ago past, my advice to my soldiers when they had announced that they had found the perfect woman and were thinking of getting married, was always to ask them. ‘Is she good to sleep next to?’ and I don’t mean boinking. I mean if you really sleep well together, then go for it!’
There is nothing as rare and precious as the perfect sleep partner.
These thoughts occurred to me, just before I rose and made the cups of coffee which wwer the last touches with her in the dark and quiet seclusion of the little courtyard.
I then left to cross the city from East to West before the traffic escalated to its usual choking crawl. My first stop was at Chilanga, on the old road that led down to the kafue flats and eventually the Zambezi valley.
Chilanga is the headquarters of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.
At its inception in the colonial days, the HQ found itself way outside the city limits, in a cute little village, which even had quite an auspicious zoo, overseen by the department, to augment the sense of closeness to the wildlife that the DNPW headquarters projected to the outside world. But today, the ugly sprawl of the city has over run the area. The huge cement factory nearby now spreads its grey dust over the area in almost symbolic scorn at the efforts of those in the department to protect the natural worlds struggle to find relevance in the modern world.
Over the last few decades, i the slow relentless battle between nature and the plague of people, there have been very few victories won by the conservationists. Essentially the DNPW, if it were honest with itself, would admit that instead of the few keepers on the payroll to mind a local zoo, they are all now nothing more than grand zoo-keepers. After all national parks all over the world are simply glorified zoos, for the entertainment of the crushing press of surrounding over population.
And with population comes politics. In African Wildlife conservation, the puffed-up and often petty egos affect the politics of those that manage or are involved, in a way that is as back stabbing and destructive as that to be found at a national level.
This almost constant and relentless in fighting tends to sap much of the energy and efficiency that could be spent in fulfilling a mission and mandate of protecting the natural world.
Thus to be successful at my job, I learned early on that I also needed to keep my finger on the political pulse, and find out which faction is currently in favor, or ascendancy, and which have fallen fowl of funders, or political expediency’s.
My side step on the way back to the Lodge was in this intelligence gathering spirit , to have a good chat with a few of my ‘buddies’ at Chilanga and find out from those in the trenches what they know about the high-level politics. The guy who was heading up Norway aid, was long gone, together with his master plan and blue-print for the Kafue National Park.
Now the government seemed, once again not to have a clear idea of how exactly to run the national assets.
Should the department be a self -funding parastatal, or a fully integrated department of the government.
Or maybe it seemed that the Yanks with their ‘Nature Conservancy’ were trying to muscle its way in on the leadership action. Would they be allowed to play a big part in how the parks were operated? And what about Pantera, and their focus on conservation. They also appeared to expect a bigger role. Or Ranges unlimited?
Or should it be given out to a private concern like Africa Parks, for them to run the areas, as they were already doing elsewhere.
Would they turn the parks into an exclusive set of destinations receiving funding from the few multimillionaires who could afford to visit.
If so, this would, in my opinion, even further disassociate the mass of mankind from any remote connection with his origins. There would be no place for people to witness and appreciate the precise delicacy of the balance that has been perfected over millions of years, and which needs to be maintained if there is any hope of a future which includes mankind.
But who cared about my opinion.
That was why I needed to understand the politics.
If I was to be able to have a job, and even more importantly be able to live in some of the last truely wild places of Africa, it would be best to know who to pander to.
Afterall, friends come and go, enemies stay forever.
And of course the DNPW always play second fiddle to the department of mining. What was the word on the street?
Which of the big conglomerates would be interested in taking over concession rights.
Would their interests fall within those of existing conservation areas.
The Chinese had begun a mining operation just beyond the borders of the GMA near Chifumpa, and I knew that sometime back a small outfit had begun to explore and dig up samples within earshot of the lodge.
And even the Lodge itself was cited on land that in the middle of last century was a prospecting camp.
My stops at Chilanga sometimes provided useful information that I could use to guide my destiny at a high level,.
Later, on the way back, I would also stop in Mumbwa. The information I could glean from the local Mumbwa branch of the DNPW, was generally more tactical. They would know which areas were facing more poaching pressure, and what kind of poachers these were and how I should respond by indirectly directing my efforts of the rangers I was training.
Thus in Chilanga, sharing a bunch of bananas purchased at the side of the road, and a few bottles of Cola was all that it took for my best contact to fill me in.
He was still unsure exactly how Africa Parks fitted into the big picture.
‘Yes, all these people’, he said, ‘they think that they can come in here and run things. But you know the politics of Africa, it is like rugby, not soccer. Here we like to scrum. African politics is a contact sport. The higher ups are not willing to give up power, and even more importantly they will not give up the money they can make.’
My contact said this to me as he escorted me back to my vehicle, and I thanked him for his insights.
As I started the vehicle another pulled in to Park a few yards away.
Mohammed Beyh was at the wheel.
53 – Night update
I needed to peell a few of the notes off the top of the wad of ‘Kwacha’ in my pocket to convince the crew at the pontoon to make one last late trip across the river.
Then in the beams of my had-lights, as I drove along the dirt track that skirts the lodges small parking area, I noticed an unfamiliar land cruiser.
Flipping back through the pages of my memory I vaguely recalled Precious mentioning that they were expecting guests from a late booking.
A few minutes later, as I drew closer to the campsite where our two tents were set up in front of the small shared chitenge with its thatched roof, I saw that Moses had the embers glowing in the fire pit.
Now, when the summer winds which bring the rains have banished the oppressing heat of October, sometimes in the evening after a line of thunderstorms at the front of a low-pressure system have passed by, there can be a faint edge of coolness in the air. It was just such an evening, and as such I could feel the fires welcoming glow on my forearms long before I spread my palms close to its warmth.
It felt so good being back in the Bush after the sojourn in the city.
With all the changes in the Africa that I once knew in yesteryear, , the ritual of a fire next to a tent in the Bush was one of the few things that had not changed. The ‘new Africa’ had not yet robbed me of this pleasure of a remote piece of its Bush, or a small campfire, the sounds of the night creatures, and a special friend with whom I had shared so many of the joys and tribulations of this continent.
‘Agh Man, you’re a bloody star!’ I said to Moses when I saw that he already had the little tin beaker tucked into the side of the embers, where it was beginning to hiss on its way to boiling enough water for two cups of coffee.
He chuckled back at me, ‘It was not hard to guess that you would soon be here. After the rain the air is very still tonight.
The sounds travel a long way. I heard your vehicle as it came through the dambo on the other side of the Lodge.’
I crouched down and rubbed my hands together close to the embers, ‘I’m hungry. All I ate today was a banana at Chilanga, and a piece of real village Jongwe chicken at the ‘Aunty Mercy’ motel store in Mumbwa. To get itsoft enough they had to boil the fucking thing with a brick in the pot, and then they served the brick to someone else who had paid more for its taste and its tenderness than my bloody piece of chicken.’
‘Have you already eaten?’
‘Of course I have!’ I did not think that you would make it across the ferry. But if you make me half a biltong sandwich I will join you.’
While I was slicing and buttering the bread, and grating the hard dry strips of biltong, Moses prepared our cups of coffee. Then we sat for a while sipping and munching while staring into the hypnotic flicker of the flames.
‘So, how did it go down south?’ he asked.
‘It went well, I got funding to cover the training expenses for another year.’
‘And then after that?’ Moses queried.
‘I don’t know!’
As i sat and stared at the flames, my mind went over how life had been one long series of ‘don’t knows’. If life in Africa had any semblance of normalcy, I would probably have inherited my father’s farm, and today I would be a farmer.
But that was not Africa’s plan for me.
‘Moses,’ I said softly, ‘You and I have both learned to exist day by day, month by month, and year by year. Who knows where you and I will be and what we will be doing once this gig is up.’
I sat for a while before continuing. ‘Hopefully it will be in the Bush somewhere, because it is the only place that doesn’t break its promises, and disappoint. It is still the bush I knew as a kid, the same bush that you and I walked through on our first operations.
‘Yes you are right!’ he replied to me, ‘It is God’s gift to us’.
Almost prophetically, across the river came the warning cough of an Impala. There was probably a Leopard on the prowl.
It was only after we had finished our sandwiches and sat sipping the last dregs of coffee at the bottom of our mugs, that I asked him what had happened out here while I was away.
‘So tell me what have you found so far? Did you managed to discover anything about what’s been going on out here?’
Moses raised his hand to his chin and gave it a long scratch. ‘Yes, but not quite what I expected.’
‘There are some very strange interactions. They are making the picture look a bit more complex.’
Moses paused as if to organize the sequence of his thoughts before continuing,
‘We know that there is an old man messing about with witchcraft. We know that for some reason he is inciting and stirring up the local population, with rumors and stories, and the usual stuff that presses the superstitious buttons of the locals.’
Moses leaned sideways and stretched his arm to set his mug on the ground next to his chair.
‘But it also seems that this individual is not from around here, but he is familiar with the area.
So what does this mean? Why is this guy here, and why now?’
‘OK, I will agree with all that’ I said, and waited for Moses to go on.
To begin with I wanted to find out if this individual really was the real deal. Was he a genuine sangoma?
Did he have a basis in his witchcraft?
If he was, he would have a place where he could focus and concentrate his ritual practices. If he were a real sangoma he would need to communicate with his spirits. As you probably know, the African spirit beliefs keep their ghosts and zombies close at hand. They are not way out beyond the reaches of the galaxies.
That was one of the things that Father Xavier and I used to discuss a lot. I would ask him where he thought heaven and hell were actually located. He would point way off into the heavens. But a lot of my friends who were not raised at the mission, would point to the spirit world all around us. It was never far away. And when there was a sangoma close by the spirits gathered around him.
So where could this be?’
I smiled at Moses as I said, ‘Hey, I could become a Christian if they could promise me that there is a summer cabin on the Kafue to come back to if I was a good boy in heaven.’
‘Now, now!’ Moses admonished me, ‘There is no need for you to be disrespectful. One of these days God is going to slap you on the wrist for being disrespectful. And with all your behavior and attitudes to life I am starting to suspect that you are headed to hell in any case.’
‘But anyway, I had a hunch that the area around the confluence of the rivers, with its hills and cliffs would be a good place to start looking, especially since we saw him shouting at us from the top of a cliff there.’
I got up and pushed the beaker back into the fire to boil more water.
Moses went on talking. ‘I started by making friends with some of the rangers at their temporary pontoon patrol base.
They showed me where, not far downriver at the foot of the cliffs a madman had lived on the river bank. He had simply lived in a scrape under the trees for years with no shelter.
They also told me of the rumor of a white farmer, who during the uneasy days after independence converted his wealth into gold and buried it somewhere on the hills above the cliffs.
All of these strange things give the area a special significance when it comes to the superstitions in the mind of the people. It is the sort of area to which a newly arrived sangoma would gravitate. People would take him more seriously if they knew it was there that he made his magic.
With a bit of scouting around it did not take long to find a cave. And sure enough it seemed that it been ritualistically used for a long time. I could see faint engravings of totems on the rock walls.
From the track son the ground, it was obvious the place was visited quite frequently.
But for some reason it took a while for him to visit while I was staking it out. So it also took a while to get on his tracks.
Interestingly I found that he walks in to his cave, using different routes, and he goes to great efforts to hide his sppoor.
But he arrives from further away on a bicycle which he hides in thick bushes near the road. ‘
Moses stopped speaking and watched me as I took the beaker of boiling water away from the fire.
Then he continued speaking as I started to make us both another cup of coffee.
‘I discovered that he only travels on his bicycle at night, when there is almost no chance of meeting another vehicle.
Then when he does, from his tracks, I saw how he will quickly lift his bike and hide in the Bush until the vehicle has passed by.
I also discovered that there is a particular place where he quite regularly meets someone.
It is at the old construction quarry on the road, not too far from where our lodge road joins it.
Strangely, whoever it is that he meets there, he does not really seem to trust them. Each time he would hide his bicycle quite far away, and then walk in towards the meeting place from different directions.
So I decided to stake out the quarry and simply wait. As you and I learned in Angola, sometimes the most productive ambushes are those where you lay in wait for a long time for a high value target.
I handed Moses his mug.
‘It was only a few nights ago that I found out who he was meeting. And that is where things began to get confused in my mind.’
Up to that point it just seemed that it was another story of a new sangoma, moving into an area. The only strange thing was that there were very few people in his new area. And like politicians, it is hard to be a religious leader without people to lead.’
I sarcastically interjected, ‘They don’t lead, they manipulate.’ And asked him, ‘So who was the meeting with?’
Moses did not speak for a few moments.
‘The old sangoma man met with the two Russians.’
‘I had not realized that he had been meeting them quite frequently. Before then they had never left their vehicles when they met, and I could not recognize their boot prints. But this last time they did.
But then thing got even stranger.
Another vehicle arrived.
It was late at night. So it must have been something important and a meeting that needed to be hidden.
The new vehicle had arrived from the direction of the Lunga pontoon. But that pontoon also does not operate after dark, so where they came from I do not know. Either that or they had to bribe the crew even more than you did to get across that late at night.
Just like with the Russians, there were two men in the new vehicle. But these two spoke Spanish to each other..
I could understand the odd word, because of my Portuguese, but I could not understand what they were talking about.
They spoke for about half an hour and then the Russians left, and the Spanish speakers headed back north. And the old man disappeared into the Bush where I assume he picked up his bicycle. ‘
I had not interrupted Moses during this recount.
‘Wow!’ So what do you think is going on?’
‘I have no idea, but the strange behavior of the Russians has something to do with it. They have been here for a month, and from what I hear from the hunting camp they do very little hunting. They are hunting for something else.’
From somewhere between our camp and the Lodge, came a series of high pitched, but throaty yelps. A side-striped Jackal had started its evening search for food. Somewhere beyond it came the trill of a Scops Owl. The beautiful sounds of the African bush at night.
I listened to these sounds for a while, and thought about what Moses had told me.
‘I think it would be worth our while to see if we can coax more information out of those two son-of-a-bitch
Russians!’ I said to Moses. ‘Maybe we should eat our pride and go over to visit them again up at Alan’s hunting camp, and kiss their asses ‘
Moses kicked his foot at a log which had burned back from the fire. This caused a shower of sparks to arch into the air for a second.
‘The best way to get information out of those two characters is to get them motherless drunk. So maybe it is best to see how we can coax them over here and give them free booze. ‘
Moses cleared his throat. ‘Actually that might not be a bad idea. It seems that the guests at the Lodge right now don’t drink too much alcohol, so maybe they could spare us a few bottles of whiskey and vodka at cos.’
‘Have you met the guests at the Lodge? I asked him curiously.
‘Yes, there is a father and daughter, and the daughter’s friend staying there.’
Moses said nonchalantly, ‘the two woman stop by here a few days ago. They seem to be bored. And the friend seems not to be too happy about the sparse rations of alcohol.’
‘Actually, they have stopped by a number of times, at least one of them has.’
‘Are the woman good-looking?’ I asked Moses.
‘Why do you ask?’
‘I’m just curious.’ And maybe if they are, we can use them as bait to bring in the Russians. It did not look like they were a faithful pair of husbands, straining at the bit to get home to their darling wives.’
‘Yup, they’ll both lookers. The one is a tall pinkie, and the other a short and dark, and Indian. The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.
‘Moses! Moses!’ I teased him, ‘that is the first time I have ever heard you describe a woman like that. We’re going to have to get you out of the Bush soon if you start talking about woman like that. I can’t have you starting to get BosBeVokked’
We were both up before the violet tint of the new day began to color the strip of eastern sky below a band of far off clouds.
Finishing our coffee I suggested to Moses, ‘What do you say to fresh fish for breakfast?’
‘That sounds good to me. It has been a long time since I’ve had fish for any meal.’
And the sun had just cleared the horizon when, slightly upriver from the ‘Moon Honey Hill’ I tucked the boat behind a small outcrop of rocks. This mid-stream jumble was capped with a forlorn shrub clinging with admirable desperation to a cleft at the top of its most prominent boulder.
How the shrub survived the floods of late summer was a wonder. Its roots would need to cling even tighter as the leaves on its submerged branches would be dragged mercilessly through the rushing water.
But the tenacity of its existence made it an ideal place to tie the boats line. Admittedly the rivers flow was not at its peak. But the boat was heavy with the two of us in it, and its drag in the flow not insignificant.
At this section, the river relaxed its flow into a wide lazy drift, like the coasting of a marathon runner, before it again gathered its strength to force its way through the constrictions of the rapids downstream.
As I looked at the wrinkles of its flow, I knew there was an unusually even riverbed under the shallow slide of its waters.
This knowledge came from having walked along most of the river’s bare bed during winter’s drought. Also I knew that here and there like currants in a bun, , nature had sprinkled larger rocks, with their edges rounded by the sandy grit of the rivers rub.
It was in the lurk behind some of these boulders, that I hoped to find a few big ‘Robbies’.
Here the water would be too shallow for my favorite deep-divers. Something different would be required.
As a child fishing had been limited to the choices of a worm on a hook at the end of the line, or a few metal spinners purchased at the farmers co-op by my father. So I am not certain when fishing modernity arrived on the African continent.
Maybe it was when some of us realized that the same magic we saw being used to catch the prizes on the Bass-Masters extravaganzas on TV, could also be used to revolutionize our proficiency at catching the humble African bream.
Surely one of the many blessings the Yanks had bestowed upon the world was their example of not letting the weight of tradition get in the way of innovation.
On TV we watched those Yankee ground-breakers using an almost limitless assortment of artificial lures, including soft wiggly latex worms in all shapes, sizes and colors.
My favorite was a plain muddy brown lure, rigged ‘Texas style’, with the hook slid in and out through the soft rubber at its tip, and then pushed along the shank, before catching just the tip and barb back into the body of the worm further along its length. This left its fishlike tail to wiggle free in the current, or the tugs of its retrieval. The beauty of this setup was that the tip of the hook was hidden in the rubber, which prevented it from catching on the rough edges of the boulders, or snagging on the weeds.
‘Here, try this one. I have had quite good success with it in water like this.’ I handed Moses a deep purple colored rubber worm flecked with chartreuse speckles.
I stood in the stern of the boat, casting out directly across the flow of the river towards the bank, while Moses flicked his at a shallower angle to the flow on the other side.
There’s something very peaceful about this sort of active fishing. By active I mean that the body has to do something repetitive, with slight variations on a ritualistic set of actions. After years, a lifetime actually of practice it no longer requires any mental or physical effort. These are a set of motions almost as fluid as the waters of the river that drift by.
I remembered Trevor telling of the Shamans entering their trancing states, by engaging in periods of withdrawal and isolation, and repetitive chanting. Now on the isolation of this far from anywhere section of the river, the repetitive mindless accuracy of the flick of my wrists, causing my lure to drop precisely where I unthinkingly wanted it, followed by the slow tug and relax, of the rod, line and the lure retrieval, soothed me into an almost hypnotic state.
In the quiet flow of my thoughts I wondered if our mystery man chanted inhis cave-like shrine downriver. And my thoughts flowed on and wondered how many of the worlds big religions owed their existence to the soothing trances of their creators. Did Jesus enter a trance while alone for 40 days and nights. Is the entire hoo-haa of Religion just another sort of Shaman’s subconscious imagination tranced into reality in the long ago minds of men. And what about Islam? Did Mohammed get his inspiration from some similar event?
I looked at the broad River and thought how it was a metaphor for life.
All of us, from the moment we are born, are set afloat on our particular rivers. Each of us on our own little raft, with the oars that can take us to the left or right. They can speed us up, or slow us down as we float along our path towards destiny and our final meeting with the ocean of eternity. Our individual rivers are sometimes broad and as slow moving as the waters upon which Moses and I now floated, with here and there its small outcrops to give some texture and irregularity to the otherwise evenness of the flo as it drifted us downwards through our ages.
At other times, as with the sections we had just passed through, our progress would be chopped up into narrow turbulent channels and even rushing maelstroms. They could catch us unawares and threaten us with the same oblivion as that in the silted estuaries of our old age, when the mud of our lives is dumped on the pages of our histories.
I also thought how so many people, in fact the majority, will seek to spend their whole lives floating down where the water is the calmest. They will be content with the numbing effect of repetitive boredom and conformity.
Most people are not willing to paddle to the edges of the river where many of the interesting elements of life are found.
Few will tarry at the edges of their driftings to pick the fruit of the fig trees, or watch an elephant, just meters away moving down to drink, or a crocodile slide into the stream. How few people have deliberately or accidentally found themselves entering a narrow channel, with the possibility of encountering tumbling cataracts.
But luckily, there are a few who have risked paddling to their margins, and made the effort to paddle past the unpleasant spots, and afterwards found themselves still licking the honey of a robbed beehive as it drips from their fingers.
That, made it all worthwhile.
And right now the honey was the feel of being in that little raft. My mind could play with these things as my fingers and hands went through the motions of the flick and twist and turn , casting and retrieving my little lure. And like a violinist’s dexterity with the countless swishes of my rod, I was now at one with the water, and with the world beneath it, together with the world for which I was designed by nature. There are times when one knows with an uncanny sense of awareness that you are good and that you’re playing a game with an audience endowed with discrimination. But despite that, or rather because of it, you are beginning to enrapture and hypnotize an audience. Soon you will wrap them in your world, where they will want to stand with you on your stage. You don’t know why but there is a connection, not from the mind, but from some very deep primitive place in the sole. It runs all the way down the arms, through the hands and fingers, into the long artificial extension of nylon and carbon fiber, with its ending in the soft latex rubber synthesis beneath which lurks some fatal enticement as primitively timeless as the aeons.
But it is the same bond and probably the same emotions that I had as those of my Paleolithic ancestors when I felt a little tug at the end of the line, the flutter of a fish. And the strike which set the hook through the rubber of the lure was as instinctively immediate, as any buzz once felt by the dust of my long disappeard predecessors.
It did not take long for both of us to land our daily limit. three nice ‘Robbies’, and a big Purple Bream between us..
‘OK old buddy,’ I said. ‘Time for breakfast. One each, we can have the other two for dinner.’
‘Or we can ask the girls in the lodge kitchen to make fish fingers for us. They are really good at it. Also,’ I teased him, ‘while we are there, you can show me your new friend’.
‘Now, now!’ Using his phrase I admonished him back. ‘I bet they didn’t teach you how to give me ‘finger’ at thicker at the mission station.’
55 – Fish Fingers
‘It seems that there has been quite a bit of rain up north for the river to have come up this high.’ I had to raise my voice over the racket of the 15hp 2 stroke engine.
As he sat in the prow I could see the rear of Moses’s head nod in agreement.
The waters had risen almost a meter during the three weeks I was away. The surging level had pushed the rivers previous shallow water clarity down to the Zambezi, and would keep pushing all the way to the Indian Ocean. Now the river was tinted with a cloudy opacity of fine soil flushed from the denuded land far away, up around the copper belt. Not even the Lukanga Sswamps could filter out the consequence of too many people upstream. I wondered what the river would look like in a few decades, when the unprotected vulnerability of the swamps was finally overrun by people and their goats, chickens, and scratched out patches of maize.
Moses did not need to speak as loudly when I throttled back the engine, and made a wide half circle in the channel to turn our boats nose into the current, and edge across towards the mooring point below the deck.
‘We also had quite a bit of rain around here, which,’ he said, ‘was one of the reasons it took such a while to pick up the old man’s tracks. They kept getting washed away after each downpour.’
I noticed Precious standing looking down from the deck as Moses stood up in the bow, and gave a little leap to jump to shore, where he reached out and grabbed a small branch to steady himself.
‘We have come to ask a favor.’ I called up to her. ‘We need some experts in the art of cooking these fish for us. Do you know of anyone like that around here?’
I hooked my fingers into the gills of the fish, two per hand, and held them up for her to see.
‘Nice fish.’ she admired. ‘I might know somebody who can help. But how much are you willing to pay?
‘Nothing’ I said straight-facedly back up at her.
‘In that case I can’t help you.’ And she dismissed us with a wave of her hand.
‘You push a hard bargain! ‘ I glared artificially back up at her. ‘What if we have somebody make them into fishfingers and we share them between us ?’
‘Deal’ she said. ‘Come on up.’
By now I had stepped ashore and was walking up the little gully below the side of the chitenge.
Reaching the top of the bank and glancing under the thatch of the roof, for the first time I notice the two strange woman sitting on the couches.
I nodded a greeting in their direction to acknowledge their presence.
‘Show us what you have there!’
It was a tall fair-haired woman who was speaking. I glanced at hher for longer than I should have, to try to get a first impression.
She was hard to describe without contradictions. As she sat slumped back in the couch, she appeared to be slender, but I could see that she had very long legs. And as she stood to walk towards me to examine the fish spiked on the fingers of my hands, I could see that she was big boned and broad hipped. Then as she got closer I saw that the faint rippling under the smooth skin of her forearms also hinted at an athletic fitness.
Her long face was not unattractive, and her hair gathered in a long ponytail through the opening of her baseball cap just added to the impression of slenderness.
However standing before me, I realized that her slenderness, was just the visual impression given by her height. She was as tall as I, and I stand at 6 feet.
‘What beautiful fish.’ She had a girlish voice. ‘I can remember going with my father on some of the Zimbabwe lakes to catch fish like those.’
‘Really,’ I exclaimed, ‘do you like fishing?’
‘No I don’t! I hate the feel of those worms squirming around when you are trying to get them on the hook.’
I smiled as I asked, ‘Where was that, on Kariba?’
‘Sometimes, but mostly it was on Sebabkwe Dam.’
My curiosity was aroused. ‘I know Sebabwe, I used to fish there as well when I was a kid. ‘
I held out one hand so that she could closely examine the fish as I went on, ‘But fishing has changed quite a bit since then. We hardly ever use live worms these days. We only use them for the women, so that they can easily catch the small fish.’
I looked at her directly to see how she would react to the teasing put down. There was no overt reaction, but she did look at me with a slight narrowing of her eyes, as if to size me up.
So I tried to push another of her buttons just for the fun of it. There was something about her which hinted that she was not a push over. Despite her girlish voice, I wanted to see if I could tease out a feisty side.
‘Actually,’ I said. ‘You can catch some big fish with worms. One of my favorite spots was quite near the boat launch on Sebakwe dam. But you need to be an expert fisherman, so I guess you never managed to catch much there.’
Once again there was aslight narrowing of her eyes as she ignored my jab. ‘How did you end up fishing at Sebakwe?’
‘I grew up near there. On a farm between the Sebakwe and Munyati rivers’ I explained. ‘My folks were members of the Sebakwe yacht club. So I had plenty of time to fish while my father was sailing in the various regattas around the place.’
‘And you?’ I queried. ‘It is not often that I meet somebody out here who has even heard of Sebakwe, let alone been there.’
She had lost interest in the fish and was looking unblinkingly at me as she spoke.
‘My parents lived in Kwe Kwe for years. My father was a doctor working at the little hospital near the junior school. He had a passion for fishing, so I also know the club and the boat launch.’
‘If that is the case, why don’t you come out and try the new way of fishing sometime.’
‘I said I do not like fishing!’ she said emphatically.
‘Yes I know, I heard you. But I also heard you say it was the worms you don’t like, and today it is such a completely different thing, with the artificial lures.’
I paused in my conversation and looked around. I noticed how Moses had drifted towards the other side of the chitenge, where he was now deeply engaged in conversation with the other woman. But it was in a way that I had never seen him interact before. As he faced me, he was leaning forward, smiling and gesticulating, and breaking into responsive laughter as she spoke.
‘Oh boy, what is with this guy?’ I thought to myself.
The woman he was speaking to stood facing away from me. All I could see was her feminine figure and very long and very black hair swishing down her back as her head moved with the animation of her conversing.
And then my attention was transfixed to her arms. I had seen them before. I recognized the delicate tattoos that tease down off her shoulders, and down the arms, and behind the elbows to curb around her forearms and brush the edges of her wrists, where a narrow frond of the design reached out to tickle along the middle finger of each hand.
As I gawked at her she turned to look at me, obviously reacting to the way Moses was frowning at the surprised look on my face.
She was just as I remembered, beautiful, with hair as black and is flowing as that of the Queen of Cush. Her figure was sumptuously languid in an elegant way like the stretch of a cat. When she moved, it was with a sinuousness sufficient enough to suggest the elegance of a dancer. And as she talked she moved her hands like the brush of palm fronds in the breeze.
Lauren also noticed the flash of recognition on my face, and how I had switched my focus.
‘Hey, don’t be rude! I’m talking to you.’ she exclaimed loudly, and I jolted back to look at her
‘I’m sorry! It is just that I got such a surprise when I saw your friend. I’ve seen her before.’
‘Ohh yea! Where was that?’
I switched my gaze back towards the dark woman talking to Moses before I answered, ‘She was standing next to me at the security check at the airport in Johannesburg. ‘
‘One can hardly miss those tattoos!’ I explained.
I suddenly remembered that I had not formally introduced myself to the tall woman next to me. ‘By the way, my name is Gideon, but people call me Gidi.’
‘Yes I know, we’ve already had quite a bit of your background filled in by Moses, as you can see he has a fan.’ She pointed her chin across the chitenge.
‘But anyway, I am Lauren.’
She extended her hand for me to shake.
‘That is my long name, but you can call me ‘very board’ for short’.
I chuckled. ‘What’s the matter? Don’t you have enough to do here to keep yourself entertained?’
She placed her hands with a flourish on her hips. ‘We have been here for 10 days already, which is about six days too long for me. That is not what I signed up for.’
‘So what is the deal?’ I asked.
‘Our stay here is sort of open-ended. Narina’s father, that’s my friends name, and I will introduce you to her in a few moments, he is the one who sets the schedule here, doing what, I don’t know, and don’t care, because whatever it is, he doesn’t spend too much time here at the Lodge.
‘That’s too bad.’ I shrugged, ‘I can stay here for weeks and not miss any other place.’
‘Well, then you are lucky. I like having a lot of people around me and the hustle and bustle of civilization.’
‘Usually I have Narina on my side to fight her father. But as you can see, lately she doesn’t have quite the same motivation to leave, as I do.’
We watched both Narina and Moses as their laughter punctuated the gaeity of their chatter..
‘Maybe you should reconsider not coming out on the river with me.’
‘If things carry on this way I think I will.’
Lauren turned back to face me.
‘Are you sure your friend is not yet ready to leave?’ I asked.
‘No! I have made it pretty obvious that I am sick of this place already. Hasn’t your Moses filled you in?’
‘Yep, he sort of gave a brief background. That you two were out here to celebrate divorces, which you have to admit is pretty unique.’
‘That’s right, but lately Narina and I are not doing too much celebrating together. It seems that she prefers celebrating over at your camp with her new friend.’
‘Oh really, I got back late last night, and I did not get a full briefing. Although I don’t supposed extra-curricular activity would be included in a professional briefing. But now I understand why he was so eager to come over to have the fish clean here.’
Lauren pursed her lips, ”Hmm, Acting shy is he. You probably spoilt the fun last night. From the sounds of it, I think your co-worker has taken to sneaking across late at night to continue the socializing in Narina’s chalet.’
We both looked across at Narina and Moses who were still smiling giggling at each other.
‘Look at that.’ she said, ‘them acting like a pair of teens. Who would have believed it! And I am stuck watching all this unfold.’
‘Well,’ I teased, ‘you almost sound jealous.’
‘I am!’ she exclaimed emphatically. ‘At least it would give me something to do. Actually I admire Moses’s courage, or maybe its his stupidity.’ She made a gesture with her hand.
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Narina’s father is a nasty type. I’ve known him ever since she and I were at school together. I’m not sure exactly what he does, but he does not have a stellar reputation for friendliness and above board deals with his numerous interests.’
‘So why do you agree to come out with him?’
‘I tolerate him, and he tolerates me…barely. So it would be okay if I knew when we would be headed back. And usually it is OK, because she can get her way with her father, even with his arrogance and nastiness. She gets her way with him.’
‘How is that?’ I asked.
‘Like with her tattoos. He was furious when he 1st saw them. But then he calms down, because she is the only person in the world who can twist him around her little finger. If she wanted to leave she could get her father to take us to Lusaka days ago. I would even be happy with getting to Mumbwa where I am sure I could catch a bus.’
Lauren almost pouted.
‘But now here she is, all a twitter around your man, as if he had just been given the 10 Commandments.’
‘OK’! I asked, ‘but what is that got to do with Moses’s courage?’
‘Mstafa is an arrogant son-of-a -bitch, who is very protective of his favorite, but wayward daughter.
Outwardly he is a very strict Muslim, and he is vindictive with those who do not find favor in his eyes. And I’m not sure if he would appreciate knowing that his precious daughter was busy falling in love with a non-believer.
Especially when it seems that she was heading back into the fold after leaving an ex-husband who Mr ‘SoB’ did not appreciate.
And that was when the previous husband had been OK to begin with, when the union also aligned itself with some of
Mr ‘SoB’’s business interests.’
‘Exactly how these interests aligned, I don’t know.’ Lauren said, ‘because this was all while she was in some South American country with him.’
‘So you see, here and now, not only is Moses not a Muslim, if I can read between the lines, he seems to have a lot of latency left over from a Jesuit upbringing.’
‘But an even bigger sin is that Moses is a penniless, footloose and fancy free wanderer.’
‘Wow!’ I exclaimed, ‘That is quite a revelation.’
Lauren paused for a while.
‘So you see, Moses should either be a bit more astute to find out who he is dealing with, or if he knows, he is very brave to start boinking Mustafa’s favorite daughter under his nose.’
‘By the way,’ Lauren changed her direction, ‘Moses tells me that you are quite a man of the Bush. How about taking me out on one of your patrols. I could do with some exercise, they don’t want me to go jogging here. They say I need to have a scout escort me, and the only way the scouts can keep up is if they ride a bicycle. One of my pastimes down south is participating in triathlons.’
‘Oh, I’m not sure if you would like the patrols, because we go out for days. But maybe I could show you some of the finer points of the Bush around here.’
And then I looked at her directly to see if I could get a response, ‘maybe I could show you the stars at night.’
This time a faint smile appeared below the narrowing of her eyes, ‘Maybe I would like that.’
At this Precious came walking through the gap in the fence to the kitchen carrying a big bowl. ‘Okay people, gather around. Bring your coffee and loaves because some false profit has brought the fish.’
Lauren was about to turn away and follow Precious when a strand of curiosity threaded its way into my consciousness.
‘What is Nariina’s surname?
‘Beyh!’ She said.
I stood very still as the tall woman walked across to join the others.
‘Fuck me sideways!’ I said quietly under my breath, ‘What the hell is going on here!’