Chapter 22: The heart
The knee-high grass of the dambo hid the deep footprints of the hippos, which had beentpressed into its clay soil when it was wet.
The hot summer sunshhine pouring down perpendicularly , quickly dried the top surface of the clay, making it hard and easy to walk on .
But this even surface was interspersed with soggy pitfalls, lurking under the grassy knee-high screen, as it specially prepared for the unwary.
Their stumblings into these pitfalls had already pushed Lauren past the point of cussing, andNarina to its brink.
They walked in single file behind Moses as he led the way.
As she walked, Narina found herself examining the man’s figure. This fascination annoyed her. it took her concentration away from the search for hippo pitfalls. She consciously had to force her eyes down, away from him, to look for the traps.
She was captivated by the way he walked. He moved so smoothly, so confidently through the grass, occasionally snapping off a long stem of it, and seemingly unconsciously picking it apart the way an old Arab fingers his worry beads.
He never stumbled, not even once. How did he do it?
For some days Narina had succumbed to the temptation to wander over to his campsite before darkness set in each evening. It was a welcome change from hanging around listening to her friend’s complaints about nothing to do. In his quiet way, conversation with Moses was always interesting.
The previous evening, he had offered to lead them on a walk into the park. THey could cross in Dudu’s boat, and on the other side of the river, it would be a short walk, he said. Only a half hour each way, across the open flood plain parallel to the river, then the big dambo, followed by a short climb up the low hill which peers back northwards.. They could take a picnic lunch and have it at the top of the hil. The view up there was excellent Moses said.
Narina thought his claim somewhat arrogant, even though he had stated it in a casual matter-of-fact way, when Moses said that he probably knew more about the natural world than the lodge’s guides.
He would show them something different.
“What?” she had asked.
“How about butterflies.” he suggested.
It intrigued her. Everything about him was intriguing.
All his knowledge of nature he had taught himself.
“How?” she had asked.
From the books in the little library at the mission where he had been raised. He had answered nonchalantly.
“That red butterfly with black dashes and small white spots at the bottom of its wings is a Painted Lady.”
Moses had stopped at the edge of the grassy area and was pointing to a beautifull insect with its wings dappled in reds and black.
“It always folds its wings up together when it lands. With the under-side freckled greys, it looks like a leaf.
It is a fast flyer with a high wing loading.”
As the three of them reached the foot of the hill and the start of the treee line, Moses again pointed to the side.
“That one over there is a ‘Pansy’. You can see why, with all the yellow splashes bordered with black and then the violet purple spot in the center of each secondary wing. It is just like its colorful floral namesake.”
“I won’t bother you with their Latin names, because you will not remember them anyway.”
As she looked at him she was fascinated by his constitution, the tall yet compact vibrant abundance of it, all packed into lithesome lean muscle and held together with taut sinews. Talking about butterflies, no less!
Suddenly conscious that she had been staring a tad too long, she noticed the direct and slightly quizzical way he returned her stare. She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. She knew his look expressed curiosity. As if it was asking if she was interested in what he was saying, or in him.
“The one flying past over there,” Moses pointed, “with the long narrow wings, is an African Monarch. It is almost exactly the same as the American Monarchs which migrate right down into South America. Here they don’t migrate far, although many of the butterflies do engage in smaller intra-African mini-migrations.”
Beginning to pant up the slope of the hill, Narina had to stop to catch her breath as she trailed behind Moses as he pointed out more beautiful insects which flitted by, or were disturbed from some favorite territorial vantage.
“We will probably not see it today but there is another butterfly which looks almost exactly the same as the monarch. Not surprisingly it is called the ‘Mimic’. The Monarchs have a nasty chemical which birds don’t like. The ‘Mimic’ does not. Instead its copy-cat colors help to keep it from being eaten.”
Slightly further up the slope Moses again stopped.
“That one over there. That is a ‘Guinea-Fowl’. You see how it always holds its wings open when it lands, unlike the Painted Lady. It’s steel grey color, sprinkled with fine white spots, is what gives it its name, after that of the bird.”
Nearing the crown of the hill and its magnificent view out over the river and its valley, Moses said for them to sit and admire the view.
“Now I will try to find you two of the most beautiful butterflies in the bush, the Charaxes and the ‘Mother of Pearl’.
For some reason those two elusive types have been frequenting this spot a lot lately.”
It was not long before Moses called them further along the ridge. He was pointing to a big beautiful triangular wing butterfly flitting about high in the crowns of the trees.
“That is the Foxy Emperor Charaxes.” He said. “You wil need to look at it with your binoculars. They are very quick, and are always at the tops of the treees.”
“Now let us see if we can find the mother-of-pearl. They are territorial, and up here is where they like to hide out in the shadows between the rocks. I think that is because they sip the moisture in the leaf detritus that accumulates there.”
Lauren and Narina sat on a big rock admiring the view, as they ate their sandwiches. Moses continued to move around the crest of the hill peering into the shade underneath bushy shrubs, and between the bigger rocks, but to no avail.
Narina admited to herself that Moses had lived up to his claim of professionalism when it came to these insects at least.
However, after finishing the sandwiches and picnic juice, and starting to wend their way down hill, Moses suddenly pointed. “Over there! Do you see it?”
“A mother of Pearl.”
Neither Narina nor Lauren could see anything. “Where? they asked.
“Do you see the big rock that looks like it is leaning against that tree trunck? Moses motioned with his hand. “Just below it. It looks like a leaf stuck upright into the sand.”
Narina could see the leaf. “OK, I see it, where is the butterfly?”
“Wait. Just keep looking at it.” Moses said.
Suddenly with a slow flick the leaf unfurled and spread its wings. A flash of creamy abalone was revealed in the shadow of the rock. It was like the blink of a cyclops eye. Such a sudden transformational spark of beauty.
“I said I would show you something special .” he said. “So there you have it. I doubt that any lodge guest has ever seen one of those. THey are harder to find than even the most sought after sightings such as wild dog, or any of the big five.”
However the bushland Gods’ had not yet finished sparking the butterflies in her stomach,. AsMoses untied the tether of the boat he froze. Without a word he slowly raised is arm , pointing as he whispered, “There, over there!! A Pearly Emperor! The most beautiful charaxes of them all.”
Perched on a leaf, with the crimson of its wing tips contrasting with the white on its inner surfaces was a butterfly.
“It has fllown here directly from the Garden of Eden,” he whispered.
then In a flash it disappeared as they climbed aboard the boat.
Returning to the lodge, Narina continued to examine the startling suddenness of her emotions.
For heaven’s sake, he himself said that being raised at the Jesuit mission still had an influence on the way he looked at life.
So, even though she herself was no longer a believer, her having a Muslim family would be a huge spike in any wheel of a shared destiny.
Yes she was rebellious. Maybe it was because she subconsciously wanted to punish her father. He had abandoned her and her brother after the death of her mother. Like now, he was always so tied up with his murky dealings all over Afric.a Then, like now, he had scant time for his children. If it wasn’t his wife, or another woman, it would be others in the family who could take care of them.
Thus she and her brother were raised by her maternal uncle and his wonderful wife. Growing up around the little trading store business, out at a rural backwater on the edge of the Zambezi valley, had given them a freedom to do and think as they wished..
It was only as teenagers that her father deigned to reenter his children’s lives, more so for her brother than herself. Her fathers veneer of religious conservatism would be bolstered in the communities eyes, and that was important to her father, if he attended mosque prayers with a son and heir.
But, only after her father became aware of the enormity of the tragedy which had befallen him, did he start to take an interest in his daughter. That was when he began grooming her to produce an inheriting grandson. Because her father had discovered that his son was gay.
But the damage had been done by then. It was her rebelliousnesstowards him that moved her to demonstrate her independence.
It had been with a sense of spite that she had tattooed her arms, or married a wealthy South American, and moved away from Africa.
Despite her father eventually finding an affinity with her husband, her divorce had brought the light of hope back into his eyes, with images of acceptable grandsons, capable of providing a legacy of inheritance.
If she gave into her heart, what would her father and his other extended family think? What would they say if they saw her falling in love with another unbeliever, this one even worse than the first, little more than a wandering pauper.
But what could she do, they could not hear her heart, with its shrieks of happiness.
Was she some kind of romantic fool? She was barely emotionally recovered from her divorce! Was she about to be insanely in love again at thirty five.
“Maybe I am going mad,” she thought, Should she share her mental state with Lauren. No, absolutely not. She would laugh and tease her.
They were here to get away from men! Lauren would say.
Later that night Narina couldn’t sleep. She lay in the evening heat staring up at the blurry mesh of the Mosquito netting over her bed.
She tried to suppress the images flooding into her mind. She was cavorting with him in a heavenly wilderness, dashing between the roses, hiding from him behind the blush of big lilac bushes. Hoping he would find her, then giggling and laughing like a schoolgirl when he did.
Why on earth was she having such thoughts? What was happening?
But inexorably she felt his attraction begin to swirl her into its circle like a leaf being swept into the vortex of a whirlpool, with all its giddying consequences.
It would not be possible. THey were from completely different social backgrounds and cultures. Their lives had followed such completely different trajectories. Apart from this brief intersection, they were still on journeys to different realms of the future.
Such a roller-coaster of emotions.
Logically it was hopeless.
But logic didn’t seem to matter. The heart is always both the hunter and the hunted.
As she lay in the darkness, she felt how her heart leapt when she remembered how his quizzical stare had seemed to question not so much her motives, as her emotions.
Had he detected her futile struggle to fpush her emotions back into their little locker deep in a corner of her heart. After all she herself could not, for the life of her, fathom or detect any motive for her feelings.
It was ridiculous. How could it happen so unexpectedly, so far out in the wilderness, with no warning. Waiting, hoping, silently begging for him to catch her wrist, swing her around, dance her off her feet, and whisk her away into paradise. There to kiss, caress and conjugate, like no lovers had ever done before.
What was wrong with her, that when something was impossible, she craved it even more fervently.