“What are you doing?”
Moses didn’t need to shout above the racket of the engine because I had already cut the boat speed as I edged it towards the river bank.
“I’m getting off here.” I said. “I want you to continue up to the Scout camp and get as many scouts as you can fit in the boat to come back with you. Tell them that some guests down at the Lodge have opened fire with guns in the national Park. Tell them that it is urgent because they may be committing other crimes as well.”
“Okay. But I doubt I’m going to get back with them before the aircraft arrives.”
I nudged the boat into the bank and jumped out.
“That is why I’m going back to see if those two chefs have fried themselves enough for me to put a skewer through their kebab.”
Pushing the nose of the boat out from the bank I gave Moses a thumbs up. He twisted the engine throttle wide open leaving a flat wake as
he skimmed off up River.
Moving carefully and gingerly down river the adrenaline added a special
buzz to the excitement of being alive. I didn’t want anybody to be aware of my approach and presence.
Part of my new plan was counting on precious’ his stubbornness not mixing with the Latin pair’s recipes. It was going to be interesting to see if they could improvise as quickly as I could when things get disrupted.
Twenty minutes later I was close enough to the outer limits of the Lodge. The thick riverine Bush made concealment easy.
I could hear loud voices arguing. It was too far away to make out what they were saying. But from the sound of things it was two different woman shouting back at a single male voice. I carefully edged closer until I could see a group of people standing on the lawn.
Precious and her cousin were gesticulating and arguing back at the short stocky Latin as is taller companion stood to the side.
Things were going better than I had hoped for. It seemed that Melody had the same stubbornness and fire as precious.
They obviously were not very interested in continuing their travels without any changes of clothing, cosmetics and especially not without passports.
The short stocky individual seem to be doing a better job than I could ever have done in showing the two woman that he was not as bland and generous as he had initially portrayed himself.
I didn’t stay to see how the argument continued. Slowly and carefully backing back into the Bush I covered the kilometer or so to the nearby airfield at a jog. Whatever the gist of their friction the only place I could intervene to affect the outcome was there, especially as it was likely that the aircraft would arrive before Moses came back with the scouts and their AK-47 firepower.
Would the gangsters force Precious and her cousin to come with them? Or would they leave the two woman behind,
I couldn’t take any chances. If the gangsters somehow cforced their ‘guests’ to join them on the flight I had to figure out some way of preventing them from leaving.
Reaching the airfield I continued up to where the road opened up onto the verge, where arriving aircraft picked up or dropped off passengers, or where the planes were tethered for a layover stay.
Glancing around I found what I was looking for., The key element of any ambush… My weapon.
The sun had now climbed well above the horizon. Everything seems so peaceful. On both sides of the airstrip wood doves were harping their mournful descending beat.. A bulbul made its tripling call overhead in the trees. It was now a waiting game.. I had time to think about life and what in the world I was doing here. A Band-Aid attempting to stop a new cut in the skin of Africa.
“Go now.” She had said to me what seem to be so long ago, and I had.
Who would’ve believed this is where it would take me. Now all I could do was be patient. I had plenty of that when it came to waiting to spring in ambush . The final flush of excitement always made the weight worthwhile for those who had
become addicted to excitement. My weapons lay out on the apron. I had checked each one, making sure I could
lift each on its edge and roll it across the ground.
The aircraft tiedown anchors were bbig heavy metal wheel hubs with a metal ring welded on the outside surface, so that a strap could easily be slipped through the loop up to the wing of an aircraft and tied in place, holding the aircraft down in the event of a wind squall.
Now I just had to hope that the aircraft would stop close to this loading point, but even if it didn’t I had tested lifting and carrying one. I could carry it with some effort to where I could place it behind my target.
The plan would work best if the aircraft was a single engine machine. If it were a twin engine there was always the remote chance of it being able to escape my ambush.
By stretching out my arm and making a fist I could fit its with twice into the space between the horizon and the sun when my introspection was interrupted. An aircraft was approaching .
It circled twice before dropping lower and coming in over the river to touchdown.
I tucked myself behind the trunk of the tree and crouched down so that nobody on the airfield could see me. As I did so I could hear the rattle of a vehicle approaching from the Lodge.
My luck was in, the aircraft was a Cessna Caravan, the workhorse of the African Safari industry, it stood high enough above the ground that I could slip easily below its belly.
Interestingly from the numbers painted on its fuselage this particular aircraft was registered in the Congo. This meant that it could be an aircraft working directly for the cartel and not a charter.
I didn’t dwell on this for long because I was more interested to see who were the passengers on the lodges safari vehicle.
Sure enough it was all four of them.
Coming to a stop I saw that the woman were having difficulty getting down from where they sat on its viewing bench seats at the back.
With their hands tied behind their backs they were roughly hauled down by the two men and made to walk across to the aircraft .
The driver of the vehicle was obviously intimidated because the short stocky one had is automatic handgun held in one hand.
As soon as the passengers were off his vehicle he engaged his gear and responded with alacrity to the stocky once Jester to get the
I noted how the pilot of the aircraft didn’t seem to be too concerned that two of the passengers had their hands tied. He probably worked for the cartel. If so I assumed that he would be reasonably familiar with such unconventional passenger pickups.
The unceremonious way the woman were aided down from the safari vehicle was mirrored in the way the two men loaded them onto the aircraft.
They open the rear cargo doors and lifted them up into it like sacks of potatoes.
Seeing the way Precious was being handled added an edge of anger to my resolve.
It was now or never.. My chance to spring my ambush.
As soon as the two men had climbed up the short ladder into the front cabin and close the passenger
door, I sprinted out onto the airfield, keeping my approach directly from behind the aircraft where I could not be seen by those inside.
A slow turboprop whine grew in tempo and intensity as the pilot started the engine. The propeller turned faster and faster.
I frantic-ly rolled one of the big wheel metal wheel hubs towards the tail of the aircraft.
Any moment now the pilot would finish his pre-flight checks and release the brakes to let the aircraft roll forward for a takeoff .
Under the tail of the craft the hub rolled sideways and fell over. I scrambled to pick it up and keep it rolling forward.
With a shove I rolled it as far forward as the midsection of the aircraft’s belly .
With barely any room to move I flipped around and lay on my back.
Using my feet I continued to roll the big metal hub forward.
The engine suddenly increased its tone.
Any second now the pilot would release the brakes.
The aircraft would roll forward and all would be lost..
Still on my back, with elbows dug into the sandy soil to give traction, I mustered all my strength to give one last desperate kick
of the big hub forward. I watched it roll the last meter into the blur of the spinning propeller.
There was a howling scream of twisted metal as the blades of the propeller dug in to the heavy steel of the hub and bent and shattered and ripped the last quarter of their length.
I didn’t wait to see the final result. Scrambling back under the belly of the aircraft towards the tail I ran back into the Bush.
The wine of the turboprop engine was cut. The Bush was filled with a dramatic silence.
As I crouched down behind my treetrunk I saw the pilot open his doorand climb down his ladder. I heard is loud exclamation of ‘Merde’.
It was not clear whether the pilot was cursing the state of the propeller, or that another vehicle had come hurtling down the road onto the airfield, bearing Moses and five other camouflage clad game scouts with their 8K 47’s at the ready .
The vehicle pulled up in a cloud of dust directly in front of the plane. Two of the scouts jumped out and crouched down with their weapons raised and pointing.
I shouted for Moses and Musekela to help me as I rushed forward to the back cargo area of the plane.
We had to get to the two woman before the gangsters could do anything stupid,
unlatching and throwing open the doors of the compartment I saw that we were lucky. In the rush to get airborne the gangsters had not yet lifted the two woman from the floor the baggage compartment to strap them into seats,
Aided by Musekela Moses and I each grabbed a girld and heaved her out and onto her feet on the ground.
Taking out my bush knife, I slashed the rope binding the woman’s hands.
“Come on follow me, run” I shouted to both of them,
The last thing I needed was for the Latin pair to try a desperate move of getting a handgun to anyone’s head. .
“Moses.” I shouted take care of these clowns. I’m going to get the woman out of here as fast as I can.”
It was only after we had run a few hundred yards down the road that I slowed to a walk. The the adrenaline had subsideded, replaced with a sense of lethargic tiredness.
“So now do you believe me that those guys were not nice people.” I asked
Precious, who glared back at me even as she panted to catch her breath .
“Oh, nevermind.” I said. “Let’s go and finish the coffee that was interrupted earlier and wait for Moses to take care of those criminals.”
“I’m being serious.” Precious glared at me, “would you please tell me what’s going on.”
We were sitting at a table in the lodges’s chitenge.
Moses had just joined us.
I shrugged and was about to give her an explanation when he interrupted.
“Precious, I’m going to take you somewhere. I will show you something which will explain it better than any of us.”
“Where?” She pouted.
“Just be patient. It’s a boat ride away.”
I looked at him curiously. This was unexpected.
“The scouts will use the lodges vehicle to take our two thugs bacl to the park HQ in mumbwa for questioning. So we have the boat to ourselves.”
An hour later, looking back south west along the flow of the river, I thought how peaceful the scene was, with no hint of the morning’s drama.
Moses gingerly steered the boat through the rapids. It was easier this time. We could pick our channel, and there was more control over the boat’s speed as we powered against the current between the rocks.
Past the rapids, Moses edged our path up stream to tuck under the head of the cliff looking balefully down on the confluence., with its neck spreading back into the spine of the Dyke.
Beyond this, where the hunchback ridge slope eased back down into the flats of the valley, Moses turned the boat into a little gap between some trees. He gestured for me to jump ashore and set the anchor.
Tilting the outboard engine out of the water, and standing up, he also motioned to Precious and Melody to disembark.
“Ti yenge,” he said. “Let’s go! I have something to show you.” After a short pause, “actually it is not something, it is someone.”
I looked at him carefully to figure out if he was joking. His air of secrecy was uncharacteristic.
“Don’t worry!” A slight smile appeared on his face, “very soon everything will be clear.”
He turned and began to lead the way, ducking under the outstretched branches of thorn bushes, around the sprawl of bigger shrub clumps, and under the spreading branches of some trees which grew big in the little gullies eroded into the slopes of the Dyke.
In the steeper spots we had to watch our footing where the Rocky gravel of the soil, loosened by the recent rains, slipped under the rubber of our bush boots.
I realized there was only one place he could be taking us. But why?
The cave is not very auspicious. Not being deep, and looking out upon a relatively non-descript vista, I wouldn’t have chosen it as a likely site for a nganga to practice his magic. But the topography was what nature provided.
Thus it was not so much the cave that filled me with surprise, rather it was the figure of the old grey haired man sitting in its recess. He was crouched flat footed on his haunches, with the crowns of his knees caught in the crooks of his elbows, giving the impression that his long thin body was bowed forward. His hunched shoulders dipped his head until the crane of his neck thrust out his chin to where, as he sat thus, it almost touched his crossed forearms.
As we approached I could see he wore the same old camouflage uniform as was his dress on our previous impromptu meetings. He hardly moved when we came to a stop a few meters to his fore. Only then did he deign to look up, more so with the lifting of languorous, almost disinterested eyes, than the raising of his head.
I opened my mouth to speak, but I felt the faintest restraining touch on the back of my hand from one of Moses’s fingers.
The two woman uneasily held back behind us.
The old man lowered his head as it lost in thought. With the flick of an outstretched arm he made a gesture for us to be seated.
As they lifted to look at me I was transfixed by some of the deepest cataract clouded eyes I’ve ever seen.
“I have been expecting you.” He said,“ever since I got your message.”
“My message?” I’m sure he could detect the incredulity in my voice. “Old man, I don’t know you, and I have not sent any messages.”
“Ahhh, but you forget.” His voice had a deep gravelly tone. “My brother was with you at that cave. The Mlimo knew you were searching for them. They sent him to meet you. They listened to your soul. The Mlimo considered your petition. They said you were looking for me.”
I was nonplussed at the memory of that meeting.
“Sit!” He ordered. We obliged him, sitting opposite and cross legged, Precious and Melody still behind us.
“Aaaahhh suwa.” The old man shook his head. “I have been watching you. Watching and seeing if you can be trusted.”
“Old man, Who are you to give me marks?” Again I felt Moses’s cautionary finger press, this time on the side of my leg.
The old man ignored me.
“As you know, from my dress and what my brother told you, I came to these parts long ago. I was here to build the airfield for the Chimurenga. For N’Komo’s men. It was where they landed the supplies.
He looked at me, “Do you know where that airfield is?
I nodded, I knew of the old defunct, over grown landing zone.
The old man cleared his throat and spat into the dust at his side. He picked up a twig beside him. He scratched some dirt over the spit
as he momentarily withdrew into himself like a tortoise its head into its sshell before coming out and continuing.
“I met the Russian there. We have helped each other for many years.”
“Are you still working with him?” I asked.
The old man stopped scratching at the dirt and looked across at me.
“Yes, and No.”
He looked back down into the sand at his feet, “but I will not work with the others.”
He pointed with his chin up over my shoulder, to where Precious crouched behind us.
“They want to play with things they know nothing about. They want to mess with that woman that sits back there. The one who is guarded by the spirit of her father. They want to steal his gift to her.”
He scratched the ground again and said, “I watched you and your man. I saw that you were genuine men of the Bush. I let your man follow me. I played tricks and tested him, like I tested you. Even though you are a zungu you have some spirits helping you. I don’t know why, or where they come from. They have said you belong here, that you have come home, that you will stay here forever.”
The message from the Mlimo, was that I was not to thwart the spirit of Mushala, or the spirit of the white-which, for hers was the most powerful spirit of them all, a good spirit.
The Mlimo said she had sent her son to sort out the issues here, and he would bring his mzungu helper.
It was better to trust them than the outsiders, the oracle at Inanke told my brother.
We sat for some minutes saying nothing.
The old man lifted his head. Making a hacking sound, he sucked in his gaunt cheeks, and spat into the
embers of the fire. The saliva hissed up into a transparent tendril of steam which curled into the form of a question mark which evaporated without an answer .
“You can go now.” He said, “I have work to do.”
No longer looking at us, he made a dismissive motion with his head.
“I must go to the village and undo the damage that those outsiders are trying to do with your scout.”
Moses stood and silently beckoned to Precious and I to follow.
We walked away single file in silence. Moses leading the way, with me to the rear and Precious between us so that I could see the sway of her hips as she walked.
Mushala’s daughter! An embodiment of African spirituality,. Her shape as beautiful and mysterious as that of a guardian muse standing at the corner of a tomb, with spread arms shielding a king from evil. A rejoicing of the female role in the ancient witchcraft world, as ancient as Africa itself.
The dislodged gravel beneath our steps trickle-down the slope like my silent thoughts.
That is what the old man said.
For the first time there it was, an affirmation.
A representative of that other world said I had come home to my Africa.
Despite my unbelieving heretic ways, I couldn’t help embracing the spiritual context of those words. .
Was this where I belonged? Had I really finally come home.
Like a lollipop I couldn’t stop sucking on a sentence that echoed in my mind, Father Xaavier’s last words to me as we parted weeks before.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways.”