Leaving the semi slumbering scouts swaddled in their blankets, I strode towards the pot of golden ink with which the dawn was gradually conveying definition to the upper branches of the trees,.
No longer needing to follow the scouts tracks, I could pick the easier, more open spaces between the tree trunks and thickets. I didn’t need to slow down to search for any tracks sign. I walked fast. It was invigorating. The leaves of the Masasa trees were all out in emerald effrontery, with their thick roots reaching deep below the surface to soak the fuzz of their dendrites in the latent left-overs from the rains, six months ago. The moisture was siphoned up into the branches where it now stiffened the rigidity of the leaves fluttering everywhere, like miniature flags waved at a gigantic bush parade. The same quartering breeze animating the leaves, dried the sweat off my cheeks, but not the dampness from my shirt.
The herbaceous rejuvenation exhilarated me with its abundance. Beginning to grow only after the recent rains, the shortness of the grass made walking even easier. Thus it was that by early afternoon I was standing outside the lodge’s kitchen, drinking a cool thirst quenching glass of orange juice, handed to me by Precious. It had taken seven hours to walk the remaining thirty kilometers to the lodge.
From across the straw fence, I could hear the sound of heated conversation coming from the chitenge. A higher pitched male voice, Mustafa’s probably, was interspersed between deeper sounding Latin accents. The conversation wasn’t loud enough to follow, but the undertone of disagreement was clearly detectable in the way they cut in, and talked over each other.
My silent gesture of ‘what’s going on?’, was answered by Precious saying, “They’ve been arguing for over two hours. They chase us away anytime we go over there, even Morse.”
Precious took my glass and asked if I wanted any more. “Madame Lauren said to tell you when you got back, that she has the keys to your vehicle at her chalet, and for you to stop by.”
I barely managed to thank her, before she twirled away back into the kitchen. I mean genuinely twirled, executing happy little circles like a spinning top as she gave little hops which edged her closer to the door, until she skipped up the steps and disappeared inside.
Wierd.. was the only word that came to mind.
Gulping down the last mouthfuls of juice I followed Precious into the kitchen where I set the glass down in the sink.
She was humming a tune to herself. We were alone. I looked at her as she moved about hhappily.
“What has got into you?” I asked.
“I am happy.” she replied.
Because I got what I wanted.”
“So when is it my turn to get what I want?” I joked to her.
“What do you want?”
“You know exactly what I want!” i hinted with a wink.
She looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Ok, because it is my lucky day, I will give you a bit of my luck!”
She moved across, took my cheeks in both her hands. I felt the wide full sensuousness of her lips on mine. Then the momentary hesitation of their slight parting as the tip of her tongue pushed betweeen mine to press on mine. I couldn’t help myself. I put my arms around her and pulled her against me. It felt so utterly good. Then like waking from a dream I felt her wriggle free.
“That is enough for now.” she whispered. “Remember you are too old for me.” From the door way she turned and said impishly , “But Lauren isn’t” as she skipped out of the kitchen.
I was in a daze, but I thought I detected a hint of jealousy in her voice.
On the way back to my campsite, I walked the long way around to get to Lauren’s chalet. There was no need for me to further annoy the growling dogs in the chitenge.
I found Lauren lounged in a chair on the deck of her chalet. Her long legs were extended hooked one over the other, resting on a coffee table. With her arms extended like her legs, elbows drooped on the armrests, she held the rim of a tall glass between the thumb and middle finger of her hand.
“Well, well, look what the cat brought back!” She exclaimed. “How was your adventure?”
“Not so good.” I replied. “I found the scouts. But not Moses. He had gone off on his own.”
“What’s bad about that?”
“It is never good to be alone in the Bush, but I have grown accustomed to that with Moses, because I’ve seen him go out on his own and come back safely so many times, that I have complete confidence in his ability to stay out of trouble. But this time there was a group of them, and one track left the others. According to the scouts, Moses went off after this one, leaving them to follow up on the others.”
“So what’s bad about that?”
“Well if the group they are tracking get together again, and Moses stumbles upon them before the scouts, there will be four of them he has to deal with instead of only one. Those are not favorable odds in the Bush.”
I caught my breath. “But most importantly I still need to speak to him about how to deal with the accusation that Musekela is possessed by a witch.
Although I did tell Musekela that after his patrol he has to wait for me, to give me a report before he heads back to the village. It will buy me time. Hopefully Moses will return before Musekela tires of waiting and heads home.
Somehow I could detect a change in Lawrence demeanor. She was smiling more readily, and generally exuded a relaxed attitude.
“And you? I asked. “What’s made you so happy all of a sudden?”
“There are big changes around here.” She stated.
It seems that everybody is heading out of here in the next day or two.
“I’m not quite sure what the details are. The two Latin men will be chartering an aircraft to pick them up at the hippo camp airfield, down river. But they don’t want their fancy ladies along with them. They have told Mustafa he needs to transport them back to Lusaka., together with all the baggage. Whereever it is they are going, the men will be travelling light.”
Lauren took a sip from her glass.
“Of course Mustafa isn’t happy with this. It seems the Latin partners don’t really regard him to be on an equal footing with themselves. He is resentful of their attitude. They are treating himlike a servant, the same way he has always treated others.
Apart from him feeling like a taxi driver, you probably have not seen it, but those two lovely ladies have a lot of luggage. As I said, to add insult to injury, the men want most of their luggage taken back and sent along on the commercial flight to where ever with the woman. They are still arguing about this and other stuff. So I have left them to scratch each others eyes out. Actually I think I contributed to there bad moods to some degree. For a while I also let Mustafa know that I was not happy with being squeezed between loads of luggage. Of ccourse the Latins couldn’t understand why Mustafa wasn’t able to shut me up.”
She smiled broadly.
“But giving them all an earfull has done me the world of good.”
“Too bad I didn’t see that catfight. ” I said quietly.
“Now that things have changed I’m feeling more relaxed, and starting to enjoy myself here.” She took out a cigarette from a pack on the table, lit it, and inhaled deeply as if to symbolize her new found enjoyment. Looking pointedly at me she said,” It is especially pleasurable since you showed me your ‘practical’ moral standards.”
I felt a momentary pang of guilt.
“If I have to I was squeezing between the luggage, the humanity and Mustafa’s scintillating personality.” She mmade no effort to hide the sarcasm. ” But if you’re going into Mumbwa soon, I would prefer to wait, and head in with you and catch a bus into the city.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “I still plan on going into the Mumbwa HQ and asking Ernest to send an extra patrol up the Westside of the Lunga.”
“Great.” Lauren beamed at me. “By the way, there is another major development that you probably haven’t heard of yet.”
“What is that?” I queried suspiciously after I noted her raised eyebrows and the rolling of her eyes.
“As you probably know precious has a fascination with fashion.”
“Yes” I replied, “I’ve seen her wearing some of her designs. Damn good stuff,” I said emphatically. “She told me how she wants to get out of the Bush, and that this place was going to be the catalyst for making it happen.
“Well.” Said Lauren.” It seems she has been granted her wish.”
“What?” I exclaimed with surprise. “What are you talking about?”
Lauren took a long swig of her gin and tonic, and switch the glass to dangle between the fingers of her other hand.
“One of the Latin men has also noticed her talent. He said for her to come along on their air charter.”
“What!” I exclaimed with surprise.
“He told her that he will be meeting a contact up in the Congo who produces clothing for Europe. If this guy likes what he sees, maybe she can do some designs for him, claims our Latin hero.”
“That is incredible!” I stated. “Almost too good to be true.”
“Knowing that they are involved with Mustafa, it probably is. But there’s no telling that to Precious,
She is beside herself with excitement. Even Morse has been swept along in the jubilation. He is sending her with his driver up to the village to fetch her passport.
“As far as I know, the three of them are booked into Hippo Lodge tomorrow night. They will catch an air charter out at daybreak, the day after tomorrow.”
. Precious was wearing her uniform in the same rakish fashion as I remembered, what now seemed like ages ago when the crocodile attack occurred.
Even her long coil of hair was woven and drooped down her back in the same fashion.
She appeared unannounced at the edge of my campfire’s umbra as I sat staring at its embers.
“Gidi, I’ve come to tell you my good news.” She pulled up a camp chair and sat down opposite me, leaning forward with pent-up excitement.
“I’m going with Luigi and Alex to Lubumbashi for a few days.”
There was no point telling her I’d heard this already from Lauren. Why spoil the excitement she was exhibiting in telling me.
“So what is it Precious? It must be something big, if it makes you dance when you give me a glass of orange juice.”
Precious laughed, “It makes me so happy I can hardly believe my luck.. Luigi tells me that he has a contact in the Congo who has a factory there, making clothing for a big department store chain in Brussels. He says he will make an introduction for me with this man. According to Luigi this man is always looking for new designs.”
“What do you know about Alex and Luigi? Do you trust them?” I hesitantly queried. “Have you asked Luigi for the name of the company, maybe we can check it out on the Internet late tonight, when we may have enough bandwidth on the satellite when everyone is asleep?”
Precious looked at me indignantly, “Alex and Luigi are Mustafa’s business partners. If he trusts them I think I can do the same.”
I held my tongue. Better to say nothing about what I thought of Mustafa, or his reputation of trustworthiness. There was no need to point out that with all the angry arguing they didn’t seem to be very close business partners.
“No, I have not had enough time for that. But Morse has been very good. I thought he would be upset. But he even offered to send his vehicle with me back to my home to fetch my passport. I’m so glad that I applied for it two years ago.”
Who was I to put a damper on her enthusiasm?
“So when are you leaving?”.
“As soon as I get back tomorrow afternoon, Luigi says we will move across to Hippo Lodge downriver and spend the night there. Morse contacted them, and arranged for the three of us to have chalets there.”
“Morse also contacted Star Aviation and arranged for a charter to pick us up as early as possible the next morning, at their airstrip.”
“And when are you coming back?”
“I’m not sure.” Precious said. “I will ask Morse, but I think it won’t be more than a week. Luigi said that they only needed a few days in the Congo to wrap up what they are doing there.”
To drown my sense of unease, I said “well Precious, let’s celebrate your luck with a great cup of coffee.”
“OK.” She said, adding, “Where is Moses?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. He is still out tracking the loose ends to the whole story.”
I added, “Whatever those are.”