26 – The Book of Gideon (Clash)

26          Clash

The staff hadn’t seen anything like it. Later Morse was to say he had witnessed something similar, but it was years ago at another lodge.

It began at sunset as a Land Cruiser pulled into the parking spot across the foot bridge from the chitenge.

“Madame,” a waitress had addressed Lauren, : the master is arriving. You must hide your drink..”

Everyone heard Lauren’s furious response.  .

“To hell with this hypocritic bullshit!” Laurens furious outburst could be heard from every corner of the lodge.

The kitchen staff rushed out to join the other onlookers.

They watched as Lauren, drink in hand strode past the baleful silence with which Mustafa glared as he and two other men stepped out of their vehicle.

The other men were not as put out. One even toasted “ Na Zdorovie”, which Lauren acknowledged with a raised glass as she angrily flounced by, answering him with a “Cheers”. As she crossed over the foot bridge towards the chalets, the younger of the two newcomers followed the elder ones toast with a loud wolf whistle. .

The Madame turned, raised her right arm high in the air with a clenched fist and middle finger pointed upright, as she shouted back,

“Fuck off!”

Now hours later Lauren sat on the porch of her big thatch roofed chalet. Perched on the remnants of an old anthill, it was comfortably shaded under a small cluster of huge acacias. The hand slashed grass surrounding it afforded a park like appearance to the view towards the river. Being the last in a line of similar structures, the short stubble beyond it quickly blended into the longer dambo grass. From there the parklike openness stretched a kilometer up River towards the campsite, where Moses would be preparing his dinner.

Lauren was leaning back in one of the padded wicker chairs with her feet comfortably crossed on a coffee table. Next to the overlap of her legs on its top were An empty glass of gin and tonic, together with the picked-at remnants of her dinner. The reason given for the earlier room service” was that “Lauren -had-a-bad headache”… she needed a break from socializing at dinner with the others.

However, from the flash in her eyes, even from a distance Precious could see lingering traces of her earlier anger.

It was a warm evening, despite the breeze remaining from a late afternoon thunderstorm to the north.

As Precious stepped up the low wooden steps from the paved pathway, Lauren uncrossed her long athletic legs to lift her feet off the table.

She still wore her afternoon garb, a pair of short cut, loose denim pants, with an old faded tank top, leaving her shoulders and arms as bare as her legs . This attracted the mosquito’s who’s tiny erratic flight was refracted in the light of the overhead bulb. Appearing as quixotic as specks of backlit dust the insects made drifting forays on her bareness. A tube of insect repellent lay on the floor,, possibly why she hadn’t yet resorted to the protection of long pants and the unfurled sleeves of a shirt.

For the last week Precious had witnessed the growing tension between the guests, specifically Lauren and Mustafa, and even between the two women. Narina was squeezed by her ties to her head-strong friend on one hand and the loyalty to her authoritative father on the other.

As she moved up the steps onto the chalet deck Precious was aware of the piercing look in Laurens eyes.

She guessed that Laurens “immodest” attire may have been more motivated to annoy the ascetic elder Muslim man, than to provide expanses of provocative skin for the benefit of the mosquitoes.

Precious set down a replacement for the gin and tonic, then began to clear the dinner service.

“Thank you, sweetie.

There was something inviting in how Lauren pronounced “sweetie”. It intimated an openness to more than the usual client-servant relationship. But Precious was hesitant to respond. The staff were trained not to get ‘close’ with the guests.

However there was an edge of curiosity in Precious’s mind as she considered Lauren,. She looked carefully at the tall woman smiling at her. With her long hair pulled back in a pig-tail held in a wooden hair band, and flanked by earings delicately carved from the same ebony, Lauren appeared sophisticatedly elegant , despite the simplicity of her clothing. How did she do it?

Precious replied with a polite “My pleasure”.

As she turned to head back down the steps Lauren called out… “No wait, don’t go. It’s too quiet out here, Stay, lets” talk.”

Hesitating, wanting to find out more, Precious gave in to her curiosity.

She stopped and turned back. Maybe it was that Lauren needed some moral support now that the adrenalin of her anger was abating. There had already been the soothing effect of the first G&T, and having been further calmed by the solitude of the night and the calls of the night-apes in the tree spreading over the chalet. Lauren was obviously in a better mood.

“Have a seat”.

Lauren reached out, taking hold of the armrest of the other wicker chair, and pushed it over to where precious stood.

“I have watched you working. I wonder why you are still here.

Precious sat down, stiff with her sense of social unease. “Why do you ask that I should still be here? “

Lauren shrugged. “I am curious. You seem out of place.”

“Is it not obvious. Did you not drive all the way out from Lusaka?” Precious  asked.

“Yes we did.” Lauren nodded. “I wish we could drive back tomorrow. But what is that got to do with my question?” Lauren leaned forward to stretch a slender arm to reach for her drink.

In tandem Precious leaned forward placing her elbows on her knees, making a spire with the tips of her fingers to touch under her chin, so they appeared to support the weight of her head.

“Madame, once you leave the city, apart from the token policewoman at the roadblocks, how many women did you see driving cars, or trucks, or even riding bicycles? How many did you see wearing business suits, and carrying briefcases?”

Precious hesitated, “Did you go into the Mumbwa market? No? There are hundreds of women carrying babies on their backs, and baskets on their heads, and trudging kilometers back home, or waiting by the side of the road for a bus.”

Lauren swilled her glass making  the ice in her drink tinckled agains its sides.

“So?” She asked, “What has that got to do with you?”

“Madame, I am from a village which makes Mumbwa look like a hive of modernity. “My job here at the lodge allows me to escape from the life that is expected of me.”

Lauren stared at Precious in silence before speaking again.

“I have noticed that you are older than the other girls. I understand Africa. I’m curious. Do you have a husband who allows you to work away from home?”

Without waiting for a reply Lauren continued.

“I have also noticed the little necklace of snail shells you where, and how you braid your hair, coiling it up on your head on both sides. It is so different and appealing. Not only that, when I walked back behind the kitchen, I saw you

were wearing a beautiful dress. I wondered where you got it.”

Precious smiled back at Lauren, “Madame, I am not married, and I made the dress. It is what I want to do with my life, and why I am here. This place and this job is my chance to escape the life that waits for me in the village. Maybe one day I will find a client who is young and unmarried, who will take me away.”

“Really!” Lauren motioned dismissively with her hand, “Do you really think that some prince will carry you away?”

Precious replied with slight annoyance at the dismissive tone, Two years ago there was a waitress here, Melody. And a young man from Croatia married her and took her away.”

“But I agree,, the odds of it happening twice are slim. . There aren’t many young, handsome, rich and single men visiting here.”

Precious gave a hollow laugh for emphasis, “But what other hope is there?”

She added wryly, “I do not have much time left, a man here is paying Lobola to my uncle for me. I don’t want him, but once the payment is finished there will be pressure on me to marry.”

“To tell the truth,” she continued, “At times I have been so desperate I have contemplated running away. I have read about the boat people crossing to Italy, and how they seldom get sent back to Africa.

“But I digress.”

Precious took a deep breath. “My job here, and the success of this lodge, is important to me.”

“Why is that, if you want to get away?” Lauren asked.

“Madame, My passion is designing. I love clothing, jewelry, make-up, everything…, I want to be a designer. For example I am curious to find out about your erings, and hair band.

 I want to be the African equivalent of Coco Chanel or Alexander McQueenn. But at my age, with no money, I will never get to the dream of being close to the big fashion centers. So I have set goals at least to get away from my village with its old way of living.

If I can get to Lusaka, or Livingston, with all its tourists visiting the Victoria Falls, and if I can afford to live there, it will be enough.

Precious became agitated. She sat up straight, wringing her hands. The emotion was evident in her voice.

“My plan is to convince Morse, and the owners of this lodge to set up a gift shop. In that case, I will have the women in the village weave and make my designs. Dresses, shirts, skirts and trinkets, jewelry,, all of it.

My salary is not enough to go places. But if I can make most of the items to sell in a gift shop I can.”

Lauren had drained her gin and tonic by the time Precious finished explaining her dreams .

“Yes I will agree that the right spouse can be a great help. Recently I have been dating an Indian man in Cape Town. He has been a dream to be around, compared to my ex-husband. He is so different from the plain sexism as with this old-fashioned bastard we have here with us. Unfortunately he is the father of my best friend, and it is through her that I met my current boyfriend. So there are some bad and some good ones.”

Lauren raised the base of her glass high to drain its last drops.

“Did you say you are from Cape Town?”

“Yes.” Lauren glanced at Precious.

Oh, Madame, I have seen the pictures. It must be a magical place!” There was a pause, “What does the Madame do there?

Lauren looked closely across at the woman sitting opposite before answering.

“I run my families yarn and cloth import-export company. It is one of the oldest and most successful in our country.”

Precious felt herself catch her breath, as, undetected, a flush of excitement widened the pupils of her eyes.

Lauren picked up her empty glass. “Please stop calling me Madame, my name is Lauren. And why don’t you fetch me another of these, and something for yourself,.

She hesitated, “Ohhh, while you are about it put it on the tab of that old bastard or one of his ex-communist friends.”

“Then come back here and let’s talk more about that beautiful dress that you made, and I will tell you where I got my ebony hairband”