25 – The Book of Gideon (Butterflies)

25:        Butterflies

The midday sunshine, pouring down perpendicularly soon dried the clay  crust of the dambo. A cloak of short grass hid hippo footprints pressed through the crust   into  the mud.   Narina was oblivious to her occasional stumbles into these  soggy traps.

“Am I going mad?”

Was she some kind of romantic fool? Why on earth was she having such thoughts? What was happening? Wat could she do to prevent the shrieks of happiness whelling up out of her heart like the excited screams of a raucous child on a playground. Logic was superfluous. The heart is both the hunter and the hunted. It was ridiculous, hopeless

and wonderful all at the same time. It was an utter emotional roller-coaster sweeping her along, unheedingly deaf to her half hearted pleas to slow down.

The figure striding before her held her fascination. He moved smoothly, confidently through the grass, occasionally snapping off a long stem, unconsciously picking it apart the way an old man may finger his worry beads.

Vainly she tried to conjure up some annoyance at the unexpectedness of it. How did this happen? so far out in the wilderness, with no warning. Surely she should be in control of her emotions.

But no! Her obsession tugged her concentration away from the hippo pitfalls. His movements were mesmerizing. She had to force her eyes down, away from his lithesome strides to search for the footfall traps. Unlike her, almost God-like, he never stumbled. How did he do it?

An exclamation of “Shit, Goddam holes,” came forcefully from behind. Narina turn to offer commiseration to Lauren stumbling behind. As she did Moses pointed to a flitting flash ahead.

“That dull red colored one is a Painted Lady.”

He pointed to the fast flutter of a beautifull insect with wings dappled in russet-reds and black, with here and there a fleck of white. It landed on a patch of damp ground in the shade of the bushes at the edge of the tree line.

“It folds its wings up closed when it lands. With the under-side freckled greys, it blends into the background. It is a fast flyer with a high wing loading. It is heavy for the size of it swings, and so has to make up by rapid wing beats and fast flying.”

Yesterday, as had happened each evening for the last few days Narina had succumbed to the temptation to wander over to Moses’ campsite before the evening darkness set in.

The staff had picked up on her get-aways. She could no longer pretend it was simply a welcome change from hanging around listening to her friend complaining of boredom. In contrast In his quiet way the conversations with Moses as they sat

 on the little sand bar were far more interesting. It was that which had drawn her to him to begin with, but now it was more than that.

She hoped that the staff could keep her secret. Her father would be furious should he discover her infatuation. , just when he thought she was returning to his fold from the grasp of a foreign non-believer ex-husband.

 In his mind she would be skipping from the frying pan to the fire. His hopes for a pedigree heir would once again recede. She couldn’t bear her father trying to intervene just when she was reaching for the sky.

Yesterday Moses had offered to lead her on a walk into the park. They would cross the river with the boat he said. On the other side it would be a short hike. Only a half hour each way, over the open flood plain, across the big dambo, followed by a short climb up the low hill peering back at them from across the river. Everything he wanted to show her could be found in the bushland diversity between here and there.

They could have a picnic lunch at the top of the hill. The view up there was beautiful he said.

He would show her something different.

“What?” she had asked.

“Butterflies.” he said.

It was so unexpectedly unusual. Romantic, maybe? Was he signaling something?.

“Where did you learn about them?”

“From the books in the little library at the mission where I was raised,” was his nonchalant reply.

 ‘You must be joking!,’ she had exclaimed.

“Africa is rich in butterflies. Few people pay them much notice.” he said.

It intrigued her. Like everything about him. Even his arrogance when he said he knew more about the natural world than the Lodge’s guides.

A stumble jerked her attention to the now.

Reaching the edge of the pitted grassy ordeal, Narina felt she could lift her head  to gaze around without risking another stuttered stride into a hippo hole. Quite a hike she thought. Easy for him, but not for her or Lauren who had demanded to tag along when she heard of the hikes unusual focus.

From the grassy spread of the dambo the three of them moved into the tree line where a patch of clay soil stunted the vegetation at the foot of the hill.

“That one over there is called a Pansy.”

Moses indicated a colorful butterfly, having yellow splashes bordered with black and a violet spot in the center of the lower wing.

“You can see how it resembles its gaudy floral namesake.” he said.

“I won’t bother you with Latin names, you won’t remember them anyway.”

Narina stared at him, mesmerized, captivated by his presence. The tall vibrant abundance of him, packed into lithesome lean luxury, held together with taut muscles rippling beneath a smooth ebony surface. His description of butterflies added to his aura of uniqueness. It was gentle delicateness emanating from a frame of subdued strength. There was the soft sound of his voice, with its accent being a mixture of the English lilt of Africa, tainted delicately by a faint Portuguese trace. She must ask him about it.

Conscious of staring too long, she caught the curious manner he returned her gaze. She felt the warmth rise in her cheeks. His look expressed a question, asking what interested her more, him, or his narrative.

“The one flying past over there,” Moses pointed, “with the long narrow wings, is an African Monarch. It is similar to the American Monarchs which migrate down into South America. Here they don’t migrate far, although many of the butterflies engage in smaller inter-African mini-migrations.”

Beginning to struggle up the slope of the hill, Narina stop to catch her breath as she lagged behind Moses effortless strides.

She was joined by Lauren, where both of them rested from their exertion in the shade of a tree half way up the slope, even as Narina tried to come to terms with her run away emotions, like the pants of her breath.

For heaven’s sake, Moses himself said that being raised at the Jesuit mission had an influence on his attitude to life. She herself was no longer a believer, but coming from a Muslim family, it would be a big spike in the wheel of any shared destiny with someone like him.

Long ago she had emotionally flown the dogma of her family’s religious coop.

She was proud of her independence. It was expressed in her quiet, but determined rebelliousness. She wasn’t as extroverted as Lauren, but she was as focused about it. It was one of the reasons the two of them got on so well together. She thought how it had been with a sense of spite that she had tattooed her arms, even in the face of her father’s ire.

That was then. Now, how could she dash their raised hopes again. If she gave into her heart wat would her 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.

With maturity she had learned it wise not to needlessly offend family sensibilities. But there was also a limit to that as well.

Continuing her slow climb up the hill, her reverie was cut short as Moses stopped abruptly.

“That one over there is called a Guinea-Fowl’. it  holds its wings open when it lands, unlike the Painted Lady. Its steel grey color, sprinkled with fine white spots, gives it its name, after that of the bird.

Continuing up the slope there were Cabbage whites, Common Grass Yellows,, Leopards, so named due to their

 spots. Moses also pointed to a Citrus Swallowtail, and some African Whites, as well as Gaudy Commodores and Round-winged Orange Tips.

Narina was astonished. Where did they all appear from? All these unnoticed insects.

How could he remember their names? She was impressed, as was Lauren.

“I have never really noticed butterflies before.” she stated.

The slope was deceptively gentle. Behind her Narina could hear Lauren muttering about the steepness and that she had not worn the proper footwear. Narina wanted to say that it served her right for insisting on tagging along.  It wasn’t the short easy hike that she had envisioned that could be done in sandals.

Ahead, and higher, the slope eased gradually into the dome crest of the hill. Shallow shelves of dark brown basaltic rock stretched between the anemic trunks of spread out trees, a sign of scant topsoil. Behind these terraced shelf edges, and tickling at the feet of the next was a covering of short wavy grass giving the hilltop its appearance of round parklike smoothness.

Like abrasions on a boxers face, the soil had been stripped away from the hills rocky cheeks by the punches  of time. Here the open spacing of the trees on the slopes meant that although they were out in full summer greenery, their leafy heads did not obscure the horizon. If anything, like a giant gallery, they framed the vistas spreading out as far as the eye could see, proffering a magnificent view out over the Kafue River snaking its way below.

On one of the layered rocky terraces near the crown of the hill, pulling the back pack off his shoulders Moses announced

it to be their picnic site.

“Now we will wait for two of the most beautiful butterflies in the bush to show up, Those two elusive types have been frequenting this spot lately.”

“What are those? Narina asked.

Wait and see.” he replied.

It wasn’t long before he pointed to a big beautiful triangular wing butterfly flitting about between the branches   of the trees overhead.

“That is the Foxy Charaxe. To get a good look you will need my binoculars. They are very quick, and are always at the tops of the trees.”

Lauren reached for his glasses first.

 “Now let us hope that the one I really want you to see pays us a visit. It is a territorial insect and up here is where they like to hide in the shadows between the rocks. They sip the moisture in the leaf detritus that accumulates there.”

Unwrapping their sandwiches from the cellophane paper, the two women sat on a big rock admiring the view.

Narina noted how Moses kept scanning the area with quickeye  movments. .

After a while he said. “I am sorry, every time I have been here for the last few weeks I have found them, but not today.”

Narina felt a glow of admiration for his frankness. What did she care about a single butterfly? Already he had lived up to his promise of showing the unusual.

The warmth of the sun and the satisfying fullness of the food made her drowzey.

Laying back on a patch of softer grass she closed her eyes.

Should she share her mental state with Lauren? No, absolutely not. Lauren would laugh and tease. They were here to get away from men!, Not to get closer to them, Lauren would say.

As she stared at the red glow on the inside of her closed eyelids the sleepiness didn’t prevent images from showering into her mind. If anything it imparted a dreaminess to them. She cavorted with him in a heavenly wilderness, dashing between the roses, hiding behind the blush of big lilac bushes. Hoping he would find her, then giggling and laughing like a schoolgirl when he did.

Inexorably she felt his attraction swirling her into its circle like a leaf swept into the vortex of a whirlpool, with all its giddying consequences.

For a moment reason reasserted itself. It wouldn’t be possible. They were from different social backgrounds and cultures. Their lives had followed such completely different trajectories. Apart from this brief intersection, they were on journeys to separate realms of the future.

But her heart leapt remembering how his quizzical stare had question not so much her motives, as her emotions.

Had he detected her futile struggle to push her feelings into a little locker deep in a corner of her heart.

 She couldn’t, for the life of her, fathom or detect a reasonable motive for them. All it had been to trigger her feelings was his gentle kiss. That soft sensuous press and linger of their lips as they parted on that second evening.

His smiling face pushed itself into her mind, his face of Africa, unlike, and yet faintly like hers, the face of India. Their miss-match would be an issue in the extant racial consciousness of this continent.

 But was she not part of Africa? Didn’t the pout of her full lips hint at an admixture? Was not the darkness of her skin a gift from a long ago slave girl? There had been enough time for some fore-bearer to dip into that chocolate box. After all was not the Beyh family fortune founded on the logistics of Zanzibar slaves two hundred years ago. If anything it was an Arabian family name.

In her mind she examined his face as it again drew her thoughts to its stage. There was something refined about it. Something in its lines as slender as his tall fine physique, something as mysterious as the Portuguese in his accent, something faintly inherited from her own Zanzibar origins. But no. How could that be? Surely it was her imagination playing tricks.

She was waiting, hoping, silently begging for him to catch her wrist, swing her around, dance her off her feet, whisk her away to a paradise.

Why, when something was impossible, did she crave it so fervently?

She wanted him to  take  her to a promised land, where they could kiss, caress, conjugate, like no lovers had ever done before.

“There!” It was his emphatic exclamation which brought her back to the present.

“Over there.”

Moses pointed, but neither Narina nor Lauren saw anything. “Where? They asked.

“Next to the rock that looks like it is leaning against that tree trunk? Moses motioned with his hand.

 “Directly below it. There is a leaf stuck upright into the sand.”

OK, where is the butterfly?”

“Wait. Keep looking.” he said.

With a lazy languorous motion, the leaf unfurled. A flash of creamy abalone was daubed at the center of a dull grit canvas hung in the shadow of the rock. Like a blinking cyclops eye, it was such a sudden transformational spark.

“Wow!” Lauren exclaimed in wonder.

“So there you have it,” Moses spoke softly, “I doubt that any lodge guest has seen one of those. They are harder to find than wild dog or Cerval cat.”

As they watched, with a silent snap of its wings it was gone.

“You have been graced with a gift from the bushland Gods.”

“Now.” He said, “We can go.”