Chapter 36 Sacrifice
I was sitting down on a little sandbar that was slowly being flooded as the river rose. What exactly would I report to the police,. I didn’t want them to think that I was crazy. The story seemed almost fictional.
I was still sitting mulling over these issues when I heard the cruiser return. Lauren accompanied Moses in the cab.
Earlier, before leaving to pick her up Moses told me he wanted Narina to feel how the sun would shine its warmth on the latest day of their happiness, and to watch it rise from the peak of Eden’s Outlook. I hadn’t heard the cruiser head back past, so he obviously took Narina back the long way, up the eastern dambo, then across and down the western, so that they returned by way of the far side of the Lodge. He probably wanted to have a last game drive, with the herds of Puku and Impala out in the dambos. Maybe he could show her a solitary Reedbuck here and there, or a cluster of Kudu or Hartebeest at the fringes of the tree line.
He had dropped her off at the lodge so that she could travel with her father and the latin ladies, with their luggage.
“I hear that you are taking me all the way to Lusaka,” Lauren said with an edge of relief in her voice.
“Yes.” I said, “you are stuck with Moses and I for a while.”
“I Like that!” she grinned back at me.
Throwing my overnight bag onto the back of the cruiser, I slid into the front seat squashed up next to her. She smiled broadly as she leaned across to peck my cheek with a little kiss, and announced loudly, “This is going to be fun.” With that Moses engaged the gears and turned the vehicle back onto the track out to the main road and the pontoon.
Arriving there we found that two vehicles were already waiting.
The first was Mustafa’s Land Cruiser, with its baggage portion piled to the roof with suitcases and bags. The engine was running with the air-conditioning on. Narina sat in the front with her father. Behind them were the elegant pair of Gold-diggers. Mustafa was correct, they didn’t travel light. Neither did their departed mail consorts whose left behind luggage obviously contributed substantially to the overload.
The third vehicle was an old shabby batted Isuzu pickup. It looked like it had crawled out of the Bushland from somewhere, and gingerly eased its sad and creaking joints down the long road to where it now stood second in line to load.
It had lost its tail gate at some stage. The back-bed was piled to the height of its sides, and then more so, with old nylon woven fertilizer bags filled with who knows what, maze meal, kapenta fish maybe? Sugar? Tucked between the bags were scruffy plastic containers also filled with the necessities of bush-life. Instead of the non-existing tailgate, a latticework of what once was metal shelving was lashed together and to the sides to provide a barrier preventing everything from rattling off onto the road.
Beneath all of this, like the last remaining tail-feathers of a diseased peacock was some pale transparent sheets of corrugated roofing. These protruded out behind at least 2 meters.
Then there were the passengers. Sitting on top of the old fertilizer bags, were two men and two women. Presumably a husband and wife in one case, and a grandmother and grandfather in the other.
The driver sat in the cab. He was joined by two woman who stood next to its open-door as they waited. The one looked sickly and emaciated even though she was clearly middle-aged, and the other bearing a fine figure, stood fashionably with a long wide copper colored cotton cloth wrapped around her waist, where it served as a skirt, below her bright polka-dot blue blouse above.
As I examined the group, she was the only thing worth looking at.
Finally there were four young children engaged in a chasing tag game, with shouts and peals of laughter as they ran around, and in between the vehicles. Their raucous antics was annoying Mustafa. Every now and again he would look angrily across at the parents as he spread his upturned palms towards the adults, as if to ask why they were not controlling the kids. They of course looked blankly back not understanding why anybody would find the rowdy play of children strange and worthy of sanction.
Lauren and I exited our vehicle and stood to one side on the bank surveying the scene.
“Take a look at that.” I handed my binoculars to her and pointed to a small sandy strip between the bushes on the other bank. A big crocodile lay sunning itself on the sand.
From the croc I shifted my binoculars to watch how the rusted hulk of the pontoon pushed its way across the river, following the parabolic path of its anchor cable.
As it approached the gradient cut into the river bank, it was skewed at an angle, with its stern pointed out downriver where it was pulled by the fast deeper water.
Before it ground its ramps into the gravel of the slope, the downstream operator swiveled his engine to point it forward, then to the side, whereupon he gunned the motor with a gush of black smoke and a shuddering rattle of its single stroke beat. At the same time, on the upstream side the other operator idled his engine to bleed off what remained of the rafts speed.
The crew had done this maneuver thousands of times, so as the Hulk growled to a halt, its snout lined up squarely with the bank.
With a wave of his hand the operator motioned to Mustafa to drive up onto the ramp. He then directed him to move forward, and to squeeze to the side of the platform, so that the next vehicle could park alongside.
The operator next signaled to Moses to jump the queue and move ahead to squeeze in parallel to Mustafa.
Lastly the signal was given to the disheveled little pick up. It bent and buckled under its burden as it lurched over the rocks and bumped up onto the pontoon. Its occupants streamed in its wake.
Lauren I stepped aboard and hope the side to avoid being bumped by the mele of the children.
As the two engines thumped into vigorous life, and the pontoon scratched its tail off the gravel, the passengers gravitated into three groups,. The Latin ladies remained in their vehicle with Mustafa and Narina. Moses, Lauren and I stood on the ramp that was now the prow. The group of pickup travellers congregated at the rear. As soon as we got under way Narina, as if she couldn’t help herself , got out of her father’s cruiser and joined us .
The thump of the engines pushing us across the water only seem to excite the children more fervently. They continued playing their game of tag, dashing between and around the vehicles, sometimes almost bumping into us on their forays.
When we were half way across Narina and Moses disengaged from our group . They threaded themselves between the vehicles and people, to stand at the edge of the Stern ramp. Obscured from her father sview in his rear view mirror, I watched as she tilted her head up and shyly and lightly kissed Moses on his cheek. Then touching the tips of their fingers they looked at the wake of the raft stretching back across the river .
Behind her one of the children scampered out from between the two front vehicles, around the dusty scratchy pickup, and dodged between some of the adults as he looked back to see where his tagging pursuer was.
The boy pulled up sharply as he suddenly realized he was about to bump into the back of a woman. He was too late. His momentum barely nudged the woman in her back. Despite the flailing of her arms, it toppled her into the river.
I have watched a soldier drown on the Kavango River. Drowning people do not make any noise. They are too busy trying to stay afloat, with their mouths and throats full of water.
It wasn’t Narina’s cries which drew the attention of the engine operators and Mustafa. It was the shouts of the men trying to reach out and grab her.
Mustafa rushed to the back of the raft and began to shout frantically that someone pull his daughter out of the water.
With horror filled eyes, I watched Narina struggling to stay afloat. She still had the strap of a bag over her shoulder. It weighed her down, as I knew were the bangles on her ankles, and the shoes, and the clothes, and the hat with a strap around her neck. Her struggles were just enough to stay afloat, not enough to make any progress back towards the raft against the current, which was winning the battle. Slowly the distance between her bobbing had and the raft grew inexorably greater.
Suddenly there was a splash,.
Moses had stripped-down to his shorts and dived in after her. He was swimming powerfully out into the middle of the stream.
The pontoon came to a stop, but being tethered in place it was helpless to follow the current down to pick her up. Its occupants were shouting, gesticulating and waving. Then as they saw the figure swimming strongly out towards the girl everyone fell silent.
They were pointing as if to give Moses some aid in his rapid steady strokes out towards her.
Raising my binoculars, hanging on their strap around my neck, I quickly scanned along the bank line. The little sandbar was empty.
As I moved the glasses back to the action, to my relief I saw how Moses reached the struggling girl.
With our old training I knew he could do it. He turned on his back, grasping her under her chin with one hand and using the other and his legs he began back stroking towards the bank that we were headed.
I shouted to the operators to start moving, quickly, to get to the bank, so that we could run downstream and help him pull her out.
Gradually Moses dragged the pair of them across the current towards safety.
As the pontoon ground its prow into the gravel I jump to shore and began to run down-stream to meet him.
They were meters away when I heard Moses scream as never before.
His scream was deep, desperate, from the heart of Africa. Like those of Precious when she had shouted at the Crocodile man.
“YENGA! TU YENGA AKUNO”, “Go, Get away from here!”
Behind them, the sinister elongated snout of a huge crocodile broke the surface.
It did not listen as it glided closer.
Opening its jaws it took hold of Narina’s ankle.
For a moment, suspended above the water, there was an arm decorated with the loveliest tattoos I had ever seen.
Then with a swirl there was nothing.
(8th edit – 03/18/2021)