59 – Incas
With a gleeful swirl, a rush of boisterous midday air buffeted the crowns of the trees over my head, whereupon it spilled its restless fervor onto the ground below. Scampering down the slight slope, it shook the dense shrubbery growing in the little gully running along one side of the chitenge. From there it playfully pushed at the woven reed matting along one of the walls, before engaging in its final aberrant act, to tug the floppy bush hat from my head and toss it into the long grass on the other side of a small dip at my side. In crossing to retrieve it, I noticed an unfamiliar vehicle partly obscured beyond the nearest chalet.
Then with my faded crown back bolstering my balding pride, and with a raised hand, I acknowledged Lauren’s loud breezy, ‘Welcome back stranger.’
Behind her, I noticed two new figures, both slumped back in the large comfortable lounge chairs at the far side of the bar area.
‘How did your mission go?’ Lauren queried. I had mentioned the need to deploy scouts before leaving.
Without waiting for a reply, she turned and walked across to the little beverage table tucked against the now limp matting of the chitenge’s wwall.
‘Tea or coffee?’ she asked, ‘If its coffee, you will have to make do with the plastic stuff. We have finished the good filter coffee.’ She was referring to the chicory based instant substitute.
‘In that case I’d prefer tea.’
‘Roiibos or regular?’
‘It’s a bit early for a caffeine boost, so it might as well be Rooibos.
As I waited, my gaze drifted across towards the two new figures, one of which was now leaning forward in her chair with her elbows on her knees, her chin resting on the knuckles of the fist of her left hand as she held a phone in her right. The other sat with elbows splayed on the soft upholstered armrests, but she too had not looked up from the lazy reclined focus on her device to notice my perusal.
I was struck by the thick mane of jet black hair of the smaller of the pair, which cascaded down both sides of the pale porcelain sculpture of her face, almost as if it were a hood. As if on cue she looked up. Our eyes met, eliciting a faint smile on a bounteously full mouth whose slightly pouted lips, were meticulously coated with lipstick so crimson as to render her appearance almost theatrical. Embellishing this impression, her dark eyes and eyebrows rendered an almost hieroglyphic essence to her visage.
The other woman was just as striking. Her head of hair, although not as full, found its dark chestnut abundance tinted auburn by golden highlights. In her case wide green eyes set far apart, with pencil thin eyebrows spanning a high bridged nose gave her a profile stolen directly from an ancient Minoan vase. Her classical features were enhanced by a wide yellow band drawing the hair back from her forehead. But contrary to that of her companion, the smooth olive hue of her skin hinted at a comquistador’ian origin, anciently blended with that of an Inca concubine.
As Lauren handed me the cup, I nodded surreptitiously over my shoulder in their direction, and under my breath asked, ‘are they your friends?’
‘Not mine. Friends of Mustafa’s friends. And there is no need to keep your voice down. They don’t speak English.’
‘What a handsome pair,’ I admired, ‘It certainly seems they have discovered that WhatsApp works out here.’
Then noting the wide golden bracelet adorning the hand of the darker one, and the light elegance in the purple flow of her close fitting dress, suggesting a membership in a coitere more likely to be seen in London’s Belgravia, I muttered, ‘I guess it must cost quite a bit to keep them happy out here.’
Then I added, ‘An expensive pair I should imagine.’
Lauren snorted as she led the way out onto the open deck out over the river. ‘You’re probably right in more ways than one about them being expensive. But then who cares.’ she said, ‘these days, more than ever, who needs marriage to find a form of legalized whoredom, it has always just been about bartering in goods and services.’
‘Wow!’ I exclaimed. I had touched a nerve. ‘You have strong opinions.’
‘No, not really, just experience, which breeds realism, which exposes the myths of social consensus and unnecessary inertia.
No longer protected from the vagaries of the warm wind, we sat out on the open deck with the rustle of the leaves around us sprinkling their sounds onto those of the ripples tugging at the exposed roots in the river bank below the deck.
There was something about Lauren’s candidness which appealed to me more than the physical splendor of the pair sitting in the shade behind us. It lacked ostentatiousness, and hinted of a life experience which had given up trying to melt itself into the taste of the time.
This was something which resonated with me. However I was not sure if this discarding of conformity had come from within, or whether, as in my case, it had been imposed from without.
‘I will be heading in to Mumbwa early tomorrow morning.’
We’ve been sitting on the deck for some time discussing the unusual activity and my findings in the vicinity of the new camp on the Lunga River.
She bet me, if I dug deep enough I would find Narina’s father and his friends somewhere manipulating the strings of puppets which tied jackal’s vertebrae to trees.
‘He’s a jackal himself,’ she said, ‘a master at deceptive manipulation. Most people don’t even know what he’s up to, or that they are ensnared in his mesh. And now he’s wooing big money. As you said, that pair over there do not come cheap.’
‘Who are they?’ and who are they with? I asked. ‘What do you know about them?’
‘Not much, only what Narina has told me. They are South American. From Columbia I think. She can speak their lingo, because she married someone from over there, and lived there for quite a few years before her divorce.’
‘As usual, I’m pretty sure that Mustafa has dual motives for inviting his darling daughter and myself out here to celebrate our freedom. It is very convenient to have her around to translate, when the Russians are not around. Do you know that they also speak some basic Spanish?’
This was something I would not have guessed at. But then Africa always manages to concoct some unlikely trait in those who had lived here long enough, it made strange bedfellows. As was currently evident.
‘Needing her to translate is why he does not want ‘us’ to leave,’ she grumbled.
‘How on earth have you and Narina remained friends if you have such a poor opinion of her father?
Obviously the surprise on my face showed.
Lauren sighed heavily. ‘It’s a long story. We were at Chisipitie together. Do you know Chisipitie?’
I mentally shrugged my shoulders, how was it that so many of the woman who found favor in my eyes were somehow tied to Chisipitie?
‘Yes I replied. I went to Falcon College. Us Bulawayeans didn’t have much to do with you folks up in the capital, but we certainly knew about the fancy girls schools up there.’
‘Well!’ Lauren continued,’ We had a strange relationship, I was a first year teacher, fresh out of teachers training college at Rhodes down south, when she became the head-girl. Then tragically, shortly afterwards her mother was killed in a car accident.’
I had always been a rebel, and even though I was still pretty obedient to society’s mores, I still identified more with the rebelliousness of youth than the conformity to a stuffy legacy of hierarchical old school education.
Narina on her part, although a very strong character, obviously inherited from her father, still had the softness of her mother, and needed consolation and sympathy. It was this unusual give and take, of mixing her advice to me, my sympathy and authority to her, back and forth exchange of roles, that bonded us together, and has kept us thus ever since.
She never got any of this from her father. He was hardly ever around. In fact she spent most of the school holidays staying with an uncle in some godforsaken little town near the Fungabusi Plateau in central Zimbabwe.
So in actuality I never really had to deal with her Jekyll-Hyde father much. Her uncle and his wife were a wonderfully sweet childless couple who together ran a trading store in Gokwe.
‘Someday you’ll have to tell me the whole story.’
It was then that I had announced my intention to head to Mumbwa the next morning.
Lauren had insisted on accompanying me. ‘I want to get the hell out of here. Even if I have to stay at the ‘Aunty Mercy Motel for a month before I can catch a bus.’
“But, tonight I’m inviting you over here for dinner.’ She stated emphatically to me.
‘We need to celebrate my last evening here!’.
‘OK, But clear that with Idaa I replied. Us ancillaries are not exactly encourage to mix with the paying guests.’