I had woken some hours after midnight.
The old boy of the Chamafumbu pride was noisy.
Maybe it was because he, like me, is affected by the magic of a full moon and it made him want to express his power. The drawn out rumbles of his moaning roars had ruffled the smoothness of my slumber.
Somewhere far away upstream on the opposite side of the river one of the bosses of the Mushingashi pride was also roaring. Over there, two young short-mained males had dethroned the old king sometime during the last rainy season.
Wrapped in the darkness of the night, and enveloped within the layers of my tent and sleeping bag like a silkworm in the comfort of its cocoon, the sounds kindled my primitive subconscious response, making me mentally wide-eyed and alert. Instinctively I knew that it is best not to draw the attention of a big prowling cat at night. I needed to have a pee, but I would tarry a while until I heard Chamafumbu’s roars receed a tad. His roars were so close I could discern the intake of breath between the big boy’s bellows.
There are very few places in the world where a soul can listen to the roar of a lion and know that there is no fence between it and yourself. It produces a visceral emotion which, I am sure, is evidence of how many hundreds of thousands of years lions were an extant part of our ancient ancestor’s daily reality. I challenge any one to not feel that tingle of fear when it is nightfall and a pride of lions is on the hunt close by. Darkness is when a lion is at its best, its most aggressive and fearless. The unwary and nocturnally reckless amongst our forbearer’s were eaten.
Just before dawn the birds had already begun to rouse and the big Leadwood and Acacia trees had more form. So too did the shapes of the shower and chitenge structures across the open ground of the lodges camping area. The full moon which had earlier been hazed over by high alto stratus was more revealed as it brushed the landscape with the silver dust of its pale luminescence.
A Heuglin’s Robin who frequented the thickets behind my tent was one of the first to herald the pending birth of the new day with song. After its first tentative beginning, almost as if to clear its throat, the sound of the call rose to the resounding crescendo of its climactic perfection.
It is a call almost as emblematic of Africa as that of the Fish Eagle. With that of the Purple Crested Turaco, the beauty of this sound symbolizes for me the denser more fecund parts of Africa, the warmer, wetter, more enticing parts, those parts with the ready-to-be-plucked ‘forbidden’ fruits.
Finally the slightly less deafening amplitude of Chamafumbu’s vocalizations allowed me to overcome my reticence to rouse.
Then, with my bare legs extended towards the fire pit, and my view of the embers of last night’s fire wedged in the V formed between the sandals on my feet as they hooked over each other, I relaxed.
I sat in the pre-dawn dimness and sipped my coffee. French pressed in my African style, very strong, sweetened with two spoons of sugar and mellowed with a dash of powdered milk, it was perfected with two rusks to dunk in it.
And I contemplated my options.
With my elbows on the armrests of the camp chair, I cradled my mug in both hands just inches before my face.
This allowed quiet shallow sips with minimal arm movement. I did not want to disturb the small herd of Puku antelope that had spent the night out in the openness of the grossi dambo. A few of the doe’s were grazing closer to where I sat.
The wisps of steam rising from the cup before my eyes made the outline of the antelope Flickr and fade like apparitions in a dream, then, as the steam curled in a different direction, they reappeared with perfect clarity.
The steam rose sensuously up into the black pre-dawn magenta of the sky as it was nudged by the almost imperceptible sideways slide of the night air. The fractionally heavier coolness of this air eased it between the trunks of the tall trees, and their surrounds of shrubs, from where it slowly slid across the open expanse of the dambo before it finally filtered down to settle into the wide rut of the river bed itself.
It was still early and it was Sunday. Without guests in camp Sunday is the only day that has a slight relaxation in its routine. Things start a bit later on Sunday than on the other days at the Lodge.
Later I could head across and share another cup of coffee with Idaa the manager and get an update on what it happened, if anything, while I was away. Or maybe I could take the boat and head a few clicks upriver to meet with Richard. I was curious if he was aware of anything unusual in his sector of the Lunga-Luswishi. He could brief me on any developments with our cooperative anti-poaching activities.
Or I could continue the escape from it all. I could come back with the downloads of messages from the lodge’s painfully slow dish satellite link. I could come back and read and sleep and check any email from the cyber elsewhere.
Or I could ignore it all. I could experience the wonderful escape from the rest of the frenetic apostasy of modern progress.
With my tent pitched on the edge of the altar of one of nature’s last cathedrals, that of the Kafue, I felt that I could almost commune with any of the Gods of the Universe. I did not need to pay large sums of money, like some of my old school chums who had managed to ‘make it’, when they attempt to find the peace and harmony of soul on the couch of a piss pot psychologist, or in the expensive austerity of a week spent in an Ashram.
So, I went back to my tent and let time go by.
I slept most of the day rousing fitfully to make a cup of coffee or to drink some mango juice. Sometimes I switched my attention to listen to the low background hum of the thousands of bush bees gathering nectar from the tiny composite flowers of the tree above the chitenge apron. These were the flowers I would have to keep sweeping away as, with their mating complete, and the pollen wiped from the legs of a bee onto a receptive stigma, the tiny petals of these flowers wilted and dropped and sprinkled from their florets in their tens of thousands, like confetti at a Kurdish wedding. The hum was the music to accompany the essential splendor of one of nature’s myriad porn shows. It was raw incestuous sex at its most perfect. As a biologist I knew that nature did not concern itself with the narrowness of our morality, the bees did not care that the flowers were from the same parent tree, nor did the flowers.
By mid-morning outside the tent it was hot, and hotter inside. I furled up all of the tent’s side window flaps to let in the breeze flowing across the dambo and tickling the leaves on the trees so that I could detect the faint rustles of their response.
Finally I roused sufficiently to have a shower and shave and got ready to go over and join Idaa for a sundowner.
But before I pack my laptop into my backpack, I read once more what I intended to send to Sophia.
It had been a few days since I returned from the visit to Father Xavier in my quest to find Moses. I had heard nothing since. There was little I could do to further my search. All I could do was wait and hope.
But, while there, the burst of excited delight engendered by Sophia’s short communique had slowly since dissipated. There had been no response to my initial few sentences of happiness at her unexpected outreach.
Anyway, what does one say after a gap of three decades. .
Since then the solitude of the evenings had given me time to compose a short essay, indicating in an indirect manner where I was in life. A sort of bridge between the then and now in a symbolic way.
I would see if it triggered a response. If It was no longer possible to touch her body, maybe it would still be possible to touch her mind.
While I packed away the laptop I could hear distant thunder. As a precaution I decided to unfurl and secure the window covers. Just In case it rained a tad.
Walking the short distance between the camp area and the lodge, a few spits of rain began to dimple the twin strips of the roads sandy surface..
Despite the ominousness of the distant thunder, It seemed that it would remain that way for a while, at least until I reach the shelter of the main Chitenge.
But it was as if someone had quickly turned off the lights. Leaving my tent it had been in the light of afternoon. Five minutes later and halfway down the road it was dusk!
This is how it is in Africa. As soon as the sun sets, day is done, and it is dark. But this was more rapid. I sort of sensed that the clouds were coalescing above me.
Suddenly, the skies aloft were split by a flash so bright that it could only have escaped from a toolbox left behind from the creation of Genesis.
The massive juddering strobe lit the darkness directly overhead, freezing the leaves and branches of the Acacia and Euphorbia trees at the side of the road. The deafening clap of thunder which blew away these images frozen on the retinas of my eyes, arrived only five seconds later.
I was glad that my sandals had thick rubber sole’s with good lightning protection. But I was aware that even this would be useless in a close strike. In the army the statistics from the war in Angola showed that the greatest killer had been vehicle accidents, followed by unintended gun-shot wounds, thirdly enemy action, after which it was a toss-up between lightning strikes and crocodile attacks.
It is very dangerous to shelter under big trees during a thunderstorm. Thus I headed out away from the road which follows the tree line.
From the center of the dambo I could look over the trees and see that the whole South east sky was possessed by a wall of hell. It was flooded with a mighty wave of deep angry purple clouds. They were seemingly suspended in motion, but oozed danger. The light from the set sun still lingered to the west. It highlighted wispy frontrunners. These straggly clouds were painted in lighter shapes of mauve and bluish-grey .
If I glanced at the massive purple wall I could see the sparkling bolts of hell boiling and rippling across its surface like the great licks of a serpents tongue.
The rumbles of thunder even overwhelmed the sounds of the swish of my feet through the thick grass of the dambo.
I made it to the Chitenge before any significant rain began to fall.
From the Chitenge deck, which cantilevers out over the river bank, I had a great view of the show.
Then…..Like a freight train I could hear it coming towards the lodge from across the distant low hill and river.
The trees over there shook and lashed around.
And with a growl it arrived, the blasting, flapping, tumbling body of air. The trees all around bent and succumbed to the push of the wind, thrashing their boughs and fluttering off leaves. A crash came from the vehicle sheds… Something big had been knocked over or blown into something else fixed in place.
A few drops of rain began to spatter.
Then it opened up! Sheets of deluging rain lashed across the trees and under the thatched roof of the chitenge and splashed against the furniture.
One of the staff came running across from the kitchen. I helped him drag the big padded chairs further back under the roof and out of the rains reach.
And it kept lashing down.
The water poured from the roof line and began to flood across the lawn.
This went on, the rain and the wind, for an hour. Until , almost with a sigh of submission it was spent . Its force and fury was replaced with the gentle brush of a cool drizzle.
I had just witnessed one of nature’s greatest shows…a big bruising African thunderstorm.
The summer’s wet season had arrived.
And there it was, the surprising unexpectedness of Africa.
Because, from the gap in the fence, instead of Idaa coming to join me for a belated sundowner, it was Melody who came striding across the lawn through the softness of the drizzle.
Her clothes were wet and clung to her figure, revealing her femininity, as well as indicating that she had come all the way from the staff quarters and not just the kitchen.
But this time, instead of with an air of supplication, she crossed directly to where I stood.
She looked down at her shirt as she took the fabric on both sides between her thumbs and forefingers, then tugged the cloth away from the closeness of her shape, so the fabric no longer clasped her form, and gave me less excuse to drift my eyes over her attractiveness.
Sheesh I thought to myself I’ve been in the Bush too long, I need to get back to Lusaka and some time with Claudia.
While still flicking the fabric of her shirt free from its wet cling, it was as if she could sense the edge of her hold on my attention. As she lifted her head to look at me, I could detect a faint glimmer of haughty superiority in her eyes.
‘Bwana, we need to speak.’
And with a slight edge to her voice added, ‘The crocodile man was here last night. He spoke to some of the staff.’
‘Can we meet tomorrow morning?’ I replied, ‘Idaa will be here in a few minutes.’
‘No Bwana. I want to speak to you now when the others will not see us talking. I will come to your camp after you are finished here.’
With that she turned and walked away through the softly falling rain
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