We won’t be going to Mumbwa this morning, “Something urgent has come up, which I need to take care of.”
Lauren looked at me in petulant dismay. “Are you kidding me?”
“No, Precious brought me the news.”
I gave her a brief outline.
“So what are you going to do?”
“I need to speak to Moses., I said. “He understands how to deal with these issues better than me.
Firstly we need to make sure that Musekela doesn’t return to the village until we figure out some options.”
If he goes back and is stoned, he will be dead, and it will be the end of my career in the bush. Even if a single scout quits, I was told by my director it will be sufficient for the German to carry out his threat to pull his companies funding. Gene my boss, told me he will have to let me go rather than lose the funding, no matter how implausible the link back to me.
“So what can you do?” she asked.
“Maybe we can get Muskela, and then his family to move to another area. I am not sure if the evil spirit that they will say has possessed him is location specific. But Moses will understand this stuff., which is why I need to speak to him.”
I scratched distractedly at the welts of the tsetse fly bites on my arms and legs. “Even that is bad for me. A team lead moving away may be excuse enough for that German son-of-a-bitch to get me out of the way. Behind all his bullshit about my performance is his desire to get his son into my position. I guess Daddy’s-boy wants some swank value experience on his resume. I don’t know how he finds out about this stuff., but he does. He must have an informer in ZAWA.
“If you are going to go and look for the patrol and Moses,” Lauren asked imploringly, “can I tag along?” I can’t stand waiting here with nothing to do except listen to Narina speak Spanish to the other two.”
I leaned forward to unfasten the velcro of my sandal. A thorn had penetrated its rubber sole deep enough for its prick to be felt by the heel of my foot.
“That is not a good idea. If the scouts have already started to sweep downriver I may need to follow them for a long way. it may take two days to track and catch up, with another day to get back to the vehicle.”
“Well,” Lauren replied “even if they are heading down to the confluence, which is closer to here than there, surely it will be quicker for you to come back here instead of walking back to retrieve your vehicle?”
I took out my penknife from its belt sheath and used it to dig at the blunt broken end of the thorn.
“Yes, but so what! it just adds complexity.. You will be one more thing I have to worry about.”
“I would still like to tag along to see the new lodge site” she said. “ If they are already headed south to the confluence, and you have to track them, why don’t you let me drive your vehicle back here? It will be closer and faster, instead of wasting time retrieving it.
I started to summarily dismiss her suggestion, then checked myself. I looked at her carefully, and weighed the options. Her persistence was annoying. But she made sense.
“I thought you were a city comfort craver. Do you think that you have enough tomboy in you to stand roughing it?”
I purposefully tried to annoy her. I wanted her to react, I was fishing for an excuse to turn her away.
“I take your monikers as compliments!” She unamusedly held my stare, “You have not seen anything yet! My ex left me because he could not keep up. We will have to see if you are the same.”
I admired her spirit and come-back at me.
“Okay, we will see. You can drive from here to Kikuji. If there is enough Boy in your Tom, you can drive my vehicle back. If not, you will need to stay until I return, with the tsetse flies to bite you, sadza to eat and river water to drink, the real bush deal.”
“That sounds perfect!” she eyed me coldly.
Sheesh I thought, I better watch out, this woman would be hard to scare away! The fight in her bitch may be bigger than that in my dog.
it didn’t take long for her to allay concerns about dirt road driving. It was in the manner she handled the long gear lever, palming it to and fro with the open flat of her hand, like an old time long distance trucker, or in the smooth easy slip of the clutch, with confident, timely snatches of a gear shift when the wheels sank into sand, needing more power.
“My uncle owned a fleet of ex-army Bedford’s based in Zimbabwe.”
Lauren spoke breezily,, she had got her way. “Do you remember those big green squat nosed trucks, with a hatch in the cab roof?” His trucking business delivered all over the region. Sometimes even further. I think I was thirteen when my legs were long enough to reach the pedals. Remember how you had to double de-clutch to move into a lower gear?”
She was in her element. Her self-assurance was palpable.
“I learned to drive on those big old Bedford’s. Not many kids can say that today, not even Tom-boy girls..
Lauren amusedly glanced across at me as she accelerated up to the sweet-spot, where the syncopation minimizes the shudder of the wheels over the ruts. She was enjoying rubbing in my skepticism.
Halfway between the two camps, as it heads north, the main road makes a gentle side-step as it angles across the low rise of a rocky dyke. This delineates between the Kafue basin on the eastern flank and the Lunga on the west.
It was as we headed through this feature that I again broached the nagging subject.
“Last night you didn’t respond much to my struggles with a moral dilemma.”
I waited for her to reply.
“As you yourself pointed out, our friends Narina and Moses seemed to be forming a relationship, which is fine by me. However the issue is something they know nothing about, but I am pretty sure of.”
She kept driving in silence,
“They are half brother and sister.”
“Yes I heard what you said, but it wasn’t the right time, or situation to start discussing that sort of thing. It would have ruined last night’s finale. But now if you ask, why do you think that is so? Have you jumped to conclusions because you have discovered that her father is an unsavory character?”
“No!” I stated emphatically, “My suspicions are more substantial. ”
I then told of Father Xavier’s tale of Moses’s mother and the only thing she remembered of the man who raped her, with the shape of his large chest scar. Also that his fine features suggested that Moses was a mixture of not just African genes.
“That is probably why he was never fully accepted into his tribe, leaving him an aloof loner.” I said,
“Why are you so worried?” She asked, “You don’t seem to be one who’s morality, or attitude to right and wrong is driven by high religious standards.”
“You’re correct. I personally don’t care what happens between them, or if they should be made aware of being siblings. If anything, African life has taught me to be more pragmatic about issues, including morality, and right and wrong..”
“So what is it that you are worried about?” Lauren slowed down and moved her hand on the stick shift, easing into a lower ratio as she coaxed the cruiser through a wash out in the road. “Are you worried about Narina getting pregnant?”
“No. I’m as dismissive of the biological dangers. A Chihuahua was once a Siberian Wolf, and a Friesland cow was once an Aruch. It didn’t take our ancestors long to figure out that an Auruch with big udders, if put to her son, and grandsons, would soon be producing daughters who also had big milky udders. So I feel no more qualms about this aspect than I do about the dog breeder producing champion Alsatians with wobbly back legs. I couldn’t care if Naraina and Moses had a kid with recessive squinty eyes.
My concern stems not from my lack of religion, but rather Moses opposite attitude, his embrace of faith. He would never forgive himself if he found out the truth, and even worse, that I hit it from him.
If I tell him now, he will leave, removing himself from temptation and the potential for grievous sin.
His definition of grievous is not as dogmatic as the main stream church would like. He is the progeny of Father Xavier who has learned the hard way, and taught Moses the lessons that God can live with a bit of transgression if the end goal is righteous. I think even you said that from the sound of it, there was some transgression going on in Narina’s chalet late at night. But he has limits.
My dilemma is selfish. I need his help in bush-craft, and his cultural insight, how to handle difficult situations like this one..
Saving the Bush and its wildlife is all that I have left. I need his halp for a bit longer.
Lauren let me talk on.
“Now I’m too male, too pale, and too old to grab at any more big opportunities in life. My youth, with all its stamina and strength, was wasted fighting doomed wars. Black empowerment is ensuring that the regimes of sub-Saharan Africa are favoring the majority, which means that the poor whites, like me, are screwed. Every time I am denied a government job, I know it is somebody believing the reverse bullshit. That they are rectifying past colonial injustices.
“You sound bitter.”
“Why don’t you just let it all go?” she offered as a platitude.
“It is too late for that.” I said. “If I was younger I would. I would have time on my side to make the changes. But now I do not.”
She shrugged, unconvinced as I went on.
“That is the reality of my ilk. I am a member of the white tribe of Africa, I cannot, and do not want to escape this sub-continent. I do not have the qualifications of a doctor, or dentist. No outside immigration official will give me a visa, let alone allow me to emigrate. So Africa is my only option. All that is left is for me to choose where to hopefully shape my small little hide away in it. With that in mind, I don’t think that I should let misguided morality get in the way. Right now this is my hideaway. It is what is left of my old world, a sanctuary, with all its fauna and flora being threatened by every successive regime that floats up to the top. I get my moral compass from what is self-evident., not from whatever fad is strutting on the various populist stages. Communism, socialism, capitalism. All of them embracing a belief that everything is subjugated to man’s will. And as if this is not enough I have a German banker glaring at me, threatening to toss me out of the only home I have.”
Lauren pulled a face at me. “You are being awefully bleak.”
“No,” I replied as I slapped at a tsetse. “I am being realistic and pragmatic.”
I continued. “So the dilemma is should I tell Moses about his sister, and risk having him freak out and leave before we have figured out what’s going on. Then risk Musekela getting killed, which will give Ulrich the banker his excuse .
If that happens, the only thing left for me at my age is to get a job as a parking attendant in some slummy grocery outlet in some crappy city down south.
But apart from the righteousness, if you want to throw in some conventional morality, a man’s life is on the line. We must do somethig about that.”
“Why are you telling me this stuff?” Lauren asked. “It sounds like you have already decided.”
I shouldered the backpack.
I would be traveling light, a waterproof ground sheet, which could be formed into a tent in the event of rain (thankfully the forecast was for dry weather), a blanket to ward off the dawn chill. Only 2 liters of water (I should not be far from the river to replenish), some biltong to chew on, and 4 cans of ultra- sweetened condensed milk for energy.
I slid the sheath of my machete onto my belt, nodded a goodbye to Lauren, and watched her drive away.
The scout’s tracks were easy to follow. They were blatant about it. It is excellent anti-poaching deterrence. Poachers, or anyone with nefarious intentions tend to avoid areas where the footprints of authority are prolifically evident.
I didn’t stay with their tracks for long. It was apparent that their intention was to patrol down in a line-abreast extending out from the river’s edge.
I didn’t plan on staying close to the river. The impenetrability of the thick riverine vegetation makes it difficult even for the animals to get to the water. Over the millennia well -trodden path ways cut through these tangles down to the drinking spots, forming ideal places to set snares.
The scouts obviously had some members checking these game axis routes for traps, while the more inland members were looking for the tracks of those who had done the setting.
For the first few kilometers south of the new lodge site, the river makes two big Westward bending sweeps, like the ears of a rabbit. Instead of diligently following the patrol, I would take a shortcut across the hare’s neck, thereby getting a jumpstart of over half the distance to catch up, assuming they had proceeded that far.
Further inland from the narrow riverine thickets, walking through the bush was relatively easy.
Here the porosity of the sandy aeolian soils has enabled the rains to leach the nutrients away. The trees are not as spectacular as in other parts of the river basin. In addition to spread ing the trees and bushes apart, it added an edge of sparseness to the grass cover beneath the relaxed leafy canopy. Every now and then, like gentle waves rolling onto a shallow beach, the trees slowly broke their uniformity to subside into a froth of successively shorter shrubs, which finally found themselves with spent energy at the edges of the open dambos, their drowned roots wallowing in water trapped by impervious clay.
It was easy to spot tracks.
I was confident that with my shortcut gambles it wouldn’t take long, or be too difficult to catch up.
It was heartening to note that already, the indirect early efforts of our conservation, even if only yet in the form of lodge construction, were having an effect. The animals were returning. On the edges of the dambos a few small groups of Puku antelope dashed away as soon as I was detected. In the bushy in between stretches, a scattering of Impala did the same. It would take a while before their skittishness was assuaged. But that would probably only occur once regular vehicle traffic was doing the rounds with the purr of diesel engines, and the reassuring clicks of clients cameras, replacing poachers gun shots.
Walking fast brought out the sweat on my back. The air had warmed quickly. It carried enough moisture to make it muggy. But there was a mindless pleasure to the walking. There is a oneness with the natural world. Communication with oneself no longer needs the medium of speech. Instead the subtle reversion to an ancient state is infinitely more calming and reassuring. Sounds, smells, sensations well into the mind as images, where they flicker or surge, then fade as if in a muted game of destiny. There is the exhilaration of being, like an animal, at the edge of fight, or flight.
Finally, an hour before sunset I picked up the fresh tracks of the patrol.
A section of Woodland opened into a clear Vista stretching parallel to the river, where its floodwaters over spilt its banks to filled flatlands along its sides. In the distance I could see two members of the patrol about to head into the next wooded section. I increased the pace of my strides.
Half way across I startled a pair of wattle cranes. They, with guttural croaks of protest, opened their
huge wings and ran a few paces to gain momentum, as they gracefully slid up into the air and stroked in a half circle to settle down behind me.
A member of the patrol had entered the riverside shrubbery as I closed enough to call out to them. They all swiveled to stare at me in surprise. The scout who had disappeared into the thickets walked back out and join the others in returning my wave.
I greeted Musekela directly,. “How goes it?
He pointed to a scouts standing behind the group with a sash of wires drooped over his shoulder.
“We have saved a lot of animals,” he said, “all of these snares were freshly set.”
As he spoke I looked around. “Where is Moses?”
“He is following a track.” Musekela answered.
I was surprised, “Alone? Isn’t that dangerous to let one man track one of these poachers? There will be others and he will have trouble.”
“Yes, I know all of that.” Musekela answered testily. “But this track was not like the others. It came in from the side, alone, and then left alone.”
He pointed off to the edge of the river bank. “We are still following the main tracks of those that set the snares. They are somewhere ahead. If you go over there you will see the tracks. Four of them.”
He turned towards the river and gestured to emphasize his point.
“Moses insisted that he followed this one alone. He said he knew who it was. That he could handle the tracking. That it would be better if he were on his own.”
An unease settled over me. A feeling from long ago, yet remembered, the foreboding, when one senses that one is in the killing ground of an ambush.
I had learnd the hard way not to ignore those feelings. But now not knowing where Moses was, how could I react. Wuld I have time to push a stick into the spokes of whatever witchcraft was waiting for Musekela if he went home.
It was pointless trying to track Moses, he would hide his own tracks and I was not good enough to follow hidden sign.
Whatever he was doing ther was no choice but to get back to the lodge and wait for him to show up.