Chapter 20: Guests
Earlier, Precious had stood still under the roof of the chitenge, where she had been doing a final sweeping of its tiled floor. From there she had watched the arrival of the guests. Almost unheralded by the quiet purring of their engines, the two dark, sleek, and mud splattered land-cruisers pulled to a halt across the lawn from the chitenge.
The quietness of their arrival meant that the waitress welcoming committee needed to scramble to get out in time and sing and clap hands. ,
Precious looked on as the guest slowly stepped out of the air-conditioning of their SUV cabs into the summer humidity. Each was offered a glass of cool juice held out on a tray by one of the maidens, as another held a tray with warm hand tells intended to wipe away any sweatiness the guests may have had on their brows after their long journey.
Later, when Precious let her mind replay the scene, she realized that the personalities of each of them had been obvious from the moment that they stepped forth.
There were only four of them.
Two men in the first vehicle and two women in the second.
The two men were almost equally tall in stature, with the one slightly shorter, only because his age seem to cause him to stoop forward slightly more than the other. They also shared a certain austerity of their physiques, but that of the older man brought to mind the drive brittleness of the elephant grass in winter, whereas with the other, it was the scavenging thinness of a village peasant’s dog.
The two women contrasted sharply with the men, despite one of them being almost as tall as they. But her long figure didn’t imbue the onlooker with a sense of austerity, as did that of the men. Maybe it was because in contrast to them there was no spareness in her movements. She was hardly ever still, and seem to be quick to laugh and of an effusive personality. Whereas both men handed back there empty glasses and the hand towels with barely a nod of thanks, the tall woman loudly expressed her appreciation, “Oh, Darling, that was just what I needed!” while at the same time she gave each of the surprised waitresses a wide armed hug, before twisting away with the swing of wide hips and a trailing sweep of an arm and leg, almost like that of a ballerina.
The other woman, nearly as dark as a leopard’s spots, and with a figure just as lithesome, was not nearly as effusive as her companion, but she still smiled broadly and gave a small curtsey of thanks as she handed back her spent wares. She was by far the shortest of them all, her head reaching not much above the shoulders of the others.
The initial diffidence with which the two men treated the waitresses was a portent of their attitude not only to the waitresses but to the entire lodge staff. It did not appear to be an affected attitude, rather than a way of life for them.
The pair had an expectation of a high, almost craven level of service from the staff, but with a minimal level of any need to reciprocate with personal pleasantries. In some ways they reminded her of a pair of high priests of an esoteric religion, who have a presumption of preordained entitlement, while all the rest of the devotees are relegated to the rank of untouchables.
From Precious’s perspective this was not particularly irksome, as she did not need to interact with them personally as did the servers during meals. On quite a few other occasions she had delt with the arrogance and bad behavior of a client. It took all types, and sometimes the rich who could afford to stay at high-end lodges such as this, had not always earned their wealth by being polite and nice to others.
The only issue that really bothered precious was how the slightly younger of the two elder men made no effort to hide the way his eyes closely followed the figures of hers and the other waitress’s as they moved. He would let his gaze prod and poke into their ribs and rump as if they were pieces of pork to be purchased for the unclean.
On the other hand, the most ameliorating factor in having to deal with the men’s demeanor was the effusive happiness and sense of fun that the two woman brought to their interactions with each other and the staff.
Precious was fascinated with the lovely tattoo on the dark woman’s shoulders and arms. It had an immediate effect on her latent obsession for beautiful shapes and colors with which to adorn the human figure. Ever since flipping through the pages of that Vogue magazine she had been captivated with how women adorn themselves. Clothing, haberdashery, jewelry and trinkets were all grist for her minds mill, but never had she considered the skin as a canvas for the expression of artistry.
The extroverted personality of the tall fair-haired woman did not fade. It persisted from the moment she arrived. Her laughter and the loud extravagance of her voice constantly filled the air surrounding her. Initially her shows of pleasure and appreciation appeared artificially exaggerated, but as the days wore on, and her behavior continued unabated, its effect was infectious, the waitresses began to genuinely smile and laugh in response. The tension that existed when the two men, especially the thin lipped Mustafa was around, was quickly dissipated by her obvious love of life, and why not attitude towards it.
According to Everett his guide, Mustafa had asked to stop at Allen’s hunting camp on his first boat trip up-river, and had immediately struck up a friendly relationship with the two Russians, who were still there. They in turn had offered to have him join them on some of their forays.
Everett had shaken his head when he described to precious the on-goings, saying that he couldn’t understand why this strict Muslim would find two alcoholic Russians such good company, while back at the Lodge, he would not allow alcohol to be served when he was present.
It was this ban which Precious could see was the only thing able to put a dent in the tall blonde woman’s bubbliness. In the late afternoon when she sat enjoying a gin and tonic on the cantilevered deck out over the river, and one of the staff would request that she take her drink elsewhere, because Mustafa was on his way, Precious noticed that she would scowl and muttered to herself and then flaunts off to her chalet, to sit simmering on its deck. Once there she would finish her drink, and even order another one from the bar, which would be surreptitiously brought to the chalet.
“Yes”, Precious heard her say to her short dark companion, “I can respect your father’s religious sensibilities, but I am out here to celebrate with you. We came out here to get away from it all and enjoy our freedom, like we used to do in the old days. With respect to your father, it bugs me that I have to be told how I must celebrate it!”
“Yes, I agree, the dark woman would reply in an attempt to defend her father, “but here we are his guests.”
“So what, lets transfer to another lodge. I hear that there are some further downriver. What about the hunting camp up-river? I can afford it. I got a good settlement out of my ex-husband.”
Precious smiled as she heard Lauren loud voice continue, “Maybe I could even book a hunt and shoot a baboon while we are there, and pretend it is my ex!”
“The Lord only knows!” she had exclaimed, “It would provide some excitement. And you and I darling, need some of that old buzz back in our lives!”
It was not often that he was caught off guard. Moses was so deep in his thoughts he didn’t noticed the footsteps approaching. Admittedly later he saw that the two women approached with their steps muffled by the soft grass in the middle of the road where it was clipped short by the sumps of the vehicles when their wheels sunk into the ruts.
Maybe his guard was also down due to his physical tiredness, and from being distracted by the sounds of the hippos. The big beasts were being inordinately noisy, grunting and squealing at each other, with a good deal of splashing about. Probably their raucousness was due to a cow in heat, and the dominant bull being challenged by an aroused subordinate.
Moses physical tiredness stemmed from having returned from the relentless strain of following difficult tracks for three days.
However, he was in good spirits, his hunch had paid off.
Prior to that, each day for almost a week he had returned to the spiritual “water-hole” he knew must exist, and which he had finally found.
Being of Africa, he intimately knew its ways. Like its animals must return to the pools to drink their life sustaining water, so too would a shaman need to return to certain spirit loci where their witch-power could be recharged by communion with their gods.
Africa’s priests didn’t need to stand before the altars of grand cathedrals. They were drawn to its inspiring places, prepared long before man developed his vanity. It was the humility and secret nature of these locations which gave them their authority and genuineness, by being set amongst nature’s special places. The shamans preferred their “holy” communion to be done alone and in private. There was no need for the pompous showmanship of a cathedral.
Moses needed to search for natures” equivalent of a church steeple, in the form of a rise of an imposing hill, a cliff face, or the conference of big rivers. Then, what he sought, a shamans alter would not be far away.
His search was made easier by the old mystery man himself, when like a leopard defending its den, he angrily waved him and Dudu away, from atop just such a hill at the confluence of the Lunga and Kafue rivers.
Moses’s search began as soon as Dudu left for South Africa. It took only a few days to find what he sought.
The cave was set back from the river, half way up the hillside as the ridge that formed it was forced up like a ripple in the earths flesh by the pinch of the two rivers as they met. It was neither deep nor imposing, but it was adequate. Its unique suitability had obviously been recognized by shamans for thousands of years, for on its walls were the faint scratched outlines of ancient totems.
The tracks of the mystery man had returned to this spot many times. It was where he communed with his gods.
If there was some focus to any of the witchcraft hovering over the region, it would be anchored in this cave.
Moses had returned to check the caves location every day since Dudu had left.
Each time he scouted he used all his skill, learned over the years to disguise his own tracks. Moses realized that his target was probably as proficient as he in Bush craft, and if alerted in the slightest, would be wary of revealing his movements. If alerted it would be more difficult, if not impossible to follow and track him down.
Finally his patience paid off, three days earlier Moses found a fresh set of tracks.
But now, it was the sound of her voice which startled him, causing Moses to swing around with the speed of a stalking cat who has had its tail pulled.
“Sorry!” she exclaimed, “We didn’t mean to scare you.”
Moses looked up rather sheepishly. “Yes you did give me a bit of a jump!”
“When we go on a game drive, or walk past, we notice your tents. We are curious to see who lives here.”
“By the way, I am Lauren, and this is my friend Birdie.”
It was the tall blonde woman who spoke.
“If you do not mind my asking, what is your name?”
“Moses!” he replied.
“That’s an old fashioned name, she said, “very biblical.”
Moses smiled] slightly surprised at her effrontery, but not put out by it , “Yes, it is, and I guess I deserve it more than you can imagine. “
Detecting the quizzical look on her long but not unpleasant face he fanned her curiosity.
“I began life being abandoned on the bank of a river. Those who raised me, being missionaries, didn’t look far for inspiration to find a name. So yes, that is why my name is biblical.”
Moses saw how the woman’s wide smiling lips had begun to part seemingly on the brink of a follow-up question.
“But that is another story for another time,” he concluded.
The tall woman spoke again. “We have been here for four days, There’s only so much game viewing and sitting around that one can take. If it was up to me I would explore a bit further afield.”
She gave a frustrated flick of her hands.
“How much longer will you be here?” Moses queried.
“Were not quite sure, it isn’t up to us!”
“So who is it up to?”
“It is up to my father!” The sooty haired girl spoke for the first time. She was standing very still next to her friend. The stillness contrasted with the animated ernestness of the tall blond woman.
As the dark girl looked at him with quiet intensity, weighing him up in some way, it was not just her speech and manner that Moses noticed as contrasting, it was also her appearance. Where her friend was a long legged race horse, she was a small thoroughbred. Where her friend was fair, she was dark, made more so by hair and eyes that were coal black, and her deep copper skin was as unblemished as a chamois. Where her friend was tall, she was short.
“Can I ask what may affect your father’s decision?” Moses queried politely.
“You will have to ask him,” replied the dark one.
He detected a certain tension between the two women on this point.
“Is this a family holiday for you?”
The tall one jumped back into the conversation. “We are celebrating our divorces!”
This was stated with a tone of emphatic satisfaction, as the dark one made a sour face and nodded in grudging agreement.
“Well at least I am!” the tall woman raised her hands high above her head, as she made the V for victory sign with both hands, and gave a little skip of pleasure. “Free at last! Free at last!”
“Birdie here has been free for a year, she continued, “and has forgotten some of the pleasure of being foot loose and fancy free. But I think her status is fresh enough for us to celebrate.”
Moses noted how the dark woman surreptitiously rolled her eyes.
Slightly taken aback he raised his eyebrows. “That is the strangest reason I have ever heard for going on Safari.”
He couldn’t help adding, “Did you hope to meet Tarzan?”
The woman called Lauren giggled.
“Birdie and I have known each other for ever. Since high school actually. For some reason we have always mirror the events in our lives. So why not celebrate like this?” she asked rhetorically.
Moses realized that she had a sense of humor, when she winked at him, “Too bad Tarzan is not a biblical name, or that Moses did not spend some time in the jungle.”
He was slightly uneasy with the flirtiness in her voice.
He shrugged, “There is more to the story of Moses than that of Tarzan. I am glad that I am Moses’s namesake, and not Tarzan’s.”
Lauren laughed again and looked at him with a certain element of respect. A smile even flickered across the dark woman’s beautiful face.
Lauren bubbled forth. “It was only recently that Birdie returned to Africa from some godforsaken South American place, where she had been dragged by her latin ‘ex’. So we decided to join her father, who is out here on business.
“Well congratulations!” Moses raised his palm to meet Laurens in a high five.
So! Are you going to let a woman stand around, or will you be a gentleman and offer us a place to sit?
Lauren looked around at the two tents in the campsite.
Moses bobbed a shallow bow, and said “Be my guest” as he indicated towards the wooden table and chairs under the chitenge roof.
“Isn’t there anyplace less formal, she exclaimed, we get all the pampering and formality we need at the lodge. I only need a gentlemanly deck chair and a good drink.”
OK hang on a moment, I think that my partner has an extra seat. He is not here right now.
Moses gathered three folding camping chairs and led the way beneath the cover of the thick riverside trees down to a little sand bar.
Don’t get too close to the water” he warned, “Crocs can leap quite a way out to grab you.”
It was one of those lovely summer late afternoons, where the sound of the rippling water mingled with that of the light breeze rustling the leaves. Their presence distracted the hippos, they quite an down. Now, with their ears and snouts barely above the water, they eyed the group of people on the bank.
Lauren laughed out merrily as she commented on this, “They look like mischievous children hiding after being caught doing something naughty.”
Moses nodded in agreement.
“How have you found your stay at the lodge?”
Settling into one of the chairs and stretching out her long legs, Lauren spoke lightly, “The best part has been being with Birdie, catching up. It has been ages since we were able to really laugh at some of the stuff in our past. Over the years we have kept in contact, but nothing compares to being next to each other. Electronically one cannot get the humor of some of the stuff we got up to, let alone try to laugh about it via email.”
The dark girl nodded an agreement.
“Other than that, the hospitality has been fantastic. The location, the food, the showers, the beds, and the guiding. But I think that we are now both ready to move on. Lauren looked across at her friend for some affirmation. All she got was a little shrug of the shoulders and a pursing of the lips.
“You see even Birdie wants to get back to civilization!”
“I need the bustle of the city, she continued. I would not even mind spending some time in Lusaka. We didn’t spend much time there on the way out here. They say it is booming these days.
“So where do you usually spend your time, where is home?” Moses asked.
“Ohh, these days I have a lovely little pent house apartment right in the heart of Cape Town’s docklands. Have you ever been there and seen what they have done?
Moses cast his mind back to the days he had spent in training not too far to the north with Dudu at Langebaan. “Not for a long time.” he replied.
Lauren waved her hand as if to emphasize her point, “I miss the bustle of the city and its perks, and I love looking out of my window at Table Mountain. The Cape is such a beautiful part of the world.
Lauren made a little sad face frown, and then brightened right back up, “So, tell us Moses, what do you do out here. The staff at the Lodge said you are involved with anti-poaching. “
She changed her tone to give a staged emphasis, “THAT sounds so exciting!”
“Have you caught any poachers, and do you have to do wild chases like they show on the Discovery channels?”
Moses shrugged, “Well actually I have not been here for long. I am here to help my friend get to the bottom of some strange occurrence’s that could be involved with poaching, but we are not yet sure.”
“Do you go on patrols? Lauren asked.
“My friend Dudu often does. He goes with the scouts he is training to see how well they are assimilating his lessons.”
“What sort of training does he do? And can we go on patrol with you?”
Moses shook his head, “I don’t think that would be a good idea. I don’t patrol, I work alone. I track people, find out what they have been doing.
Lauren looked at him imploringly, “Oh, why not, I”m bored, we’ve done all the game drives that they can offer, and we been up and down the river on the boat. I don’t like fishing, and I’m on my last book, so we need something interesting to do.”
Lauren looked across at her friend, seeking affirmation again.
Then she winked at Moses, “It you are as good as you say at chasing people I’m sure you could give a gal a run for her money.”
Moses was again slightly taken back by the remark. He was not used to such forwardness on the part of women. The inherent conservativeness of his character didn’t feel comfortable with participating in quick barroom banter, and sparring with raunchy witticisms from women.
Ignoring the comment he turned to the dark girl, the quiet one. She had an air of reticence. There was something that strummed some harmonious cord in his mind which he never knew existed.
“It sounds like both of you are bored.”
“Yes!” Lauren replied vehemently.
He stood up and turned to ask, “Can I offer you a cup of coffee.”
“How about a gin and tonic?” asked Lauren.
“I”m afraid that both my friend Dudu and I don’t drink alcohol. All I can offer is coffee, tea or I think there may be some cokes that Dudu has stashed in his tent. Would you like me to look?”
“What!!” Lauren expressed her incredulity, “this is the first time I’ve ever heard any of you Bush folk’s not drinking alcohol.”
Moses smiled, “I was raised in a Jesuit mission. There are certain values that remain with me to this day. And my friend Dudu, he used to drink like a fish, but I think that life and alcohol knocked him down so many times, he finally decided that it would be better to fight only one demon and not two, so he gave up the alcohol. He says he had seeing so many of his mates choosing to give up the other option in that struggle.”
The dog girl nodded her head, “I wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee.”
Lauren stood and linked her fingers in a dovetail, and raised them palm upwards as she stretched back on tiptoes and said, “Well I think that I will leave you two to your coffee.. I “m heading back to the lodge. Maybe Tarzan will be there with a “knock-me-down gin and tonic.”
The dark-haired woman turned sideways in her chair and peered over her shoulder to watch how Moses carefully duct under the lianas drooping from the thick foliage of the trees. In one hand he clasped a French press, as well as a small jar of powdered milk. In the other he held the handles of two large tin mugs, with the top of a packet of sugar scrunched between them.
Moses settled into his deck chair, and set the paraphernalia on the river sand at his feet.
I apologize for the lack of elegance, but how do you prefer your coffee?” he smiled at her.
“I like it with a half teaspoon of sugar to take the edge out of the bitterness, and the same amount of powdered milk to bleach its blackness.”
He handed her a mug.
Then she looked on as he poured his own.
“Please don’t complain about the amount of sugar I take.” He looked up at her, “It is one of my bad habits. I like my coffee almost as black as sin, and strong enough to float a horseshoe. And I like it sweet, because it then becomes a metaphor for life, I like tasting both the bitterness and the sweetness at the same time.
He chuckled at the sour face she made.
“Actually”, Moses took a sip of his coffee, “I borrowed that description from my friend Dudu. He took another sip and savored its taste.
“Now there is somebody who really loves his coffee, and loves it sweet. I sometimes think that he has switched his alcohol to a coffee addiction, not that he was not a caffeine addict before then. He tells me his grandmother gave him coffee in a bottle as a baby. So I guess he had no chance.”
Having relaxed, the hippos resumed their squabbling. They were no longer so concerned with the presence of the two people sitting on the little sandbar at the edge of the river. The scent of the cow obviously more stimulating than their suspicion of the human presence. Some of the snorting and jostling of the contenders had resumed.
“It sounds like you and your friend work well together. Where is he at the moment? The woman named Bertie glanced at Moses.
“He went to south Africa to give a report to the people providing the funds for the training program he is running. He has been away for a while, but should be back in the next week or so, so you may get to meet him. If you are still around that is.”
““What sort of training does he provide?”
Moses shrugged his shoulders. “As I mentioned to Lauren, I have only been here a short while, and I have concentrated on tracking people, to find out what they are doing. So I never really sat in on any of Dudu’s training sessions. But from what I understand he is focusing more on the pre-and post “Bang” procedures. These are actually as important as the interdictions, which get all the publicity.
Dudu describes it in a simple fashion, so that it is a clear concept in the minds of the scout ranges. The “bang” is when a poacher kills an animal. This is the event that traditional anti-poaching efforts have concentrated most of their resources and efforts into preventing. But the pre-and post “bang” are often more important to the success of a anti-poaching strategy.
The pre-bang is in the field of how to develop intelligence networks and the gathering of actionable information. This is activity which mostly is focused outside of the national park boundaries. For example, if it is a small scale operation, the operators live in the villages surrounding the park, and almost everybody knows who they are. So the effort is to find informers who will let the ranges know when they leave the village, and if they’re lucky, to which part of the park they are headed.
Then there are the large operations, with intermediaries which may stretch to towns and cities far away up on the copper bel, reaching into the lawlessness of the Congo. From there they stretch beyond into international destinations. But even here the locals will know of the movement of vehicles and trucks, which will be bringing in strangers and taking out the goods. Here the rangers need to work with the police and even Interpol. How to develop rapid response liaison protocols is what Dudu focuses on here.
Then there’s the post “bang” operations. At the end of the day, Zambia is a country which mostly operates within the rule of law. An anti-poaching operation is fundamentally a law enforcement activity. This means that once apprehended the poachers need to go through the justice system, which entails collection of evidence, and crime scene processing. Also the preparation for trial. This of course has been an often ignored aspect. It has simply resulted in a revolving door for the poachers. A poacher gets apprehended, held for a short period, before being brought before a magistrate, and then released with a slap on the wrist for lack of evidence.
The dark woman turned her head to look away, as she followed a flare up between two of the hippos down river.
It was then that Moses allowed himself to look more carefully at the exquisite outline of her features and the silhouette of her face. As she raised her cup to her lips he let his eyes drift down her arm. His gaze followed the fine floral tattoos on the dark amber of her skin. They tumbled down her shoulders, onto her arms, brushed behind her elbows, and delicately reappeared on her forearms, until the pattern teased to the edges of her wrists.
The woman turned back to look at Moses, “So what exactly do you do if your job is to track down people. Are you tracking down the movements of poachers once they are in the park.?
“No, I’m not tracking poachers specifically. There seems to be something else going on, which neither Dudu nor I can quite understand yet.”
“What do you mean? Are other people entering the park? to do what?” she asked..
“Well the Kafue national Park is a huge area, over twenty two thousand square kilometers, and with the concessions around it, it is sixty thousand. And it has an unusual history.”
Moses picked up a pebble and tossed it into the slowly flowing waters just beyond their feet.
“This park was gazetted not too long before the British gave up their colonial control of this country.
Before it was declared a park, there were some small tribes in the area which had been practicing their way of life for a long time. Some of these tribes were moved out of the area, but allowed to keep their fishing rights. So today there is a set number of licenses issued to tribesman to enter the Busanaga planes and set up their big fish traps.
Incidentally that is why we are allowed to fish on the rivers in the park, which is illegal in most other parks in the world.
Some of these fishermen also engage in illicit poaching. Which is done while they are in the park legally.”
But mostly this is what we call subsistence poaching. It is opportunistic, and more to feed their family and friends than it is to make money on a commercial scale.
The other problem is that the Kafue is so huge that since independence the government has not allocated sufficient funds to maintain or police it properly.
Thus certain areas of it have come to be considered by some poaching groups as their territory, much like street gangs in the West consider parts of the city to be there turf, which they defend aggressively.
This has been very much the case in the area which leads all along the Lunga River, from its confluence with the Kafue River, for 80kilometers north as far as the parks Kabanga Gate.
But for a while now Dudu says he has started to see the signs of turf battles around our area of the Lodge.
This is highly unusual, as the poachers have tended to respect the long standing status quo, of, if you don’t mess with us, we won’t mess with you.
Dudu asked me to help him figure out what is going on. It seems that the clue to it all is held by a single man.
It is this man who I am following.
“Have you found out much?” She asked.
“Yes.” Moses said quietly, “But it is just making the picture more complex.”
He gave a sigh, “But anyway, Dudu will be here soon. I can tell him what I have found so far. I am sure he will figure it out.”
“You have a lot of confidence in him!, she stated with a surprised purse of her lips.
“Yes I do,” he answered back, “I have been with him in some bad situations. He has always managed to sort things out and get us out of trouble. He was a very good officer.” Moses paused, “One of the best in our unit, which was one of the best the world has ever seen.”
Moses flicked the dregs of his coffee into the river.
“I’m curious, what kind of business is your father engaged in?”
The woman sat for a while before she replied. “I”m not sure. He has fingers in many pies. The woman in my father’s family, including myself, are generally not privy to what he does. But whatever it is he wants over here, I hope it will be over soon, because I can sense that Lauren is starting to annoy him with her pestering.”
“Why is that a problem?” Moses tilted his head quizzically.
“My father is a wonderful father, but he is an old fashioned type, he does not tolerate woman who do not know their place in life.”
She took the last sip of her coffee, and set her mug down on the sand before she continued.
“The other problem is that my father is not used to women who react badly to men who want them to be “seen and not heard”.
She took a deep breth.
“Lauren is one of those, as her husband recently found out… So I hope we can be away before things get out of hand.”
“By the way,” Moses stood and picked up the two mugs, “From the sound of it yours is not the sort of name that someone like your father would name his daughter!”
She smile back at him. “It is not. That is my nickname. I got it at school. Actually Lauren gave it to me.
You see my name is that of a bird, which is where “birdie” comes from.
I am named after an African bird. It was a name given by Le VBalliant, a French Naturalist who came to Africa in the 18th Century. He named the bird after his beautiful mulatto mistress.”
“My name is Narina.”
What kind of bird was it?” Moses asked.
A beautiful Trogon” she replied.
“And your father’s name?”
“His name is Mustafa,” she said, “Mustafa Beyh”.