Thursday, 16 October 2014

A path less straight (pt. 9)

Ein Kleine Nachtfahr

“So what is Amani Na Miti? Is it a village or somewhere with a proper hotel?” I asked.

“It’s a spot in a forest,” Egg replied. “The punchline to a joke that was not funny even before it was translated through three different languages.”

“Oh, no shower, then.” I sighed.

From the time we had landing in Nairobi I had realised that my perceptions of Africa were too much swayed by wildlife documentaries from the Serengeti to be anything approaching realistic. The city had scared me, too busy, too foreign, too far away from home for my sensibilities that were seeming more provincial by the day. Outside the city things were worse, people stared because we were different and it had taken me a while to work out it was nothing approaching racism, just curiosity.

“How come you never mentioned Machwa?” I asked.

“She’s my half-sister from Mother’s wild days, I’ve only actually met her a handful of times,” Egg explained. “I last saw her about ten years ago, she got into a fight with Aphelia, but we managed to separate them before the lightning and meteors hit.”

Conversely, Egg had taken it all in his stride, drinking in the differences and thriving on them. He had borrowed the four-wheel drive truck from one of Bracken’s business contacts, filled it with supplies from local stores and we had set out as though it were a quick trip to the seaside. It had taken us one day to leave the paved roads behind. When I objected to setting out into the wilds he had offered to turn around and take me back to the city, so I had steeled myself and told myself it was an adventure, something to make Janet’s much vaunted visit to Florida seem tame.

“Do you really know where Amani Na Miti is?” I asked.

“Yes, I spent the summer holidays there once,” Egg replied. “I think Mother was on the run from Interpol, but I was too young to understand that completely.”

Using snippets of different languages, hand signals and occasionally outright bribes, Egg had obtained fuel, services, accommodation and directions. I asked him why he did not just use a map, but he had explained that Amani Na Miti was not on the map and so we needed to get as far off it as we could. Which made as much sense as ever.

“I thought we’d see more animals,” I commented.

“There’s some chickens and a cow,” Egg said.

“I meant exotic animals, that’s just someone’s farm,” I told him.

“That cow’s pretty odd looking,” he said.

Egg had told me that we might have to rough it and had given me the option of flying straight home from Florence, but it was not until I was several days without a proper shower that I worked out the prospect of seeing wild elephants did not really balance out the hardships. Bumping along rutted dirt roads all day was not living up to the romantic level set by our Italian jaunt and I still had not seen an elephant.

“Look! Gazelles,” said Egg. “Or at least some sort of deer with funny head spikes.”

“You're no Attenborough,” I told him.

“And here, in their natural surroundings, we have the lesser mottled, pointy-headed, bouncing deer, ever alert for tourists and spontaneous photo opportunities.” Egg gave his best, but poor attempt at nature documentary voice-over.

On the forth day he pulled off the main track and took us down something that was more of an impression that someone had been along this way once before than an actual path. We stopped early and he cooked a meal of rice and local vegetables under a mosquito net hung between the truck and a tree. He lit a single candle and we watched the sun go down through the gauze. Even though the air was cooling quickly, he was sweating.

We're nearly there,” he said. “When the sun goes below the horizon we should have about quarter of an hour before the full moon rises and we need to make the most of it.”

Make the most of what?” I asked.

The near complete darkness,” he said. “Let's pack up.”

We quickly dismantled out makeshift dining area and got back into the truck. It was then I realised I had no idea what he was planning. He started the engine.

Shouldn't you put the lights on?” I asked. “Come to think of it, why not wait until the moon is up, it would be easier to see.”

The idea is that you can't see anything.” He released the handbrake and we set off.

That's not a good idea,” I told him.

If you don't know something's there then you can't run into it” We were picking up speed alarmingly, there were no outside visual clues, but I could tell by the engine noise and the way the truck was shaking on the rough surface.

That's nonsense.” My voice rose in pitch as my terror increased. “If I turn the lights off at home I still walk into the sofa.”

But you know that's there, think of all the things you manage to walk through,” he said.

Egg, this is madness! You're going to kill us!” I cried, on the edge of a scream.

I hung onto the seat, fearing that every lurch would mean a fatal collision. Egg had a look of total concentration, sweat beading on his wrinkled forehead.

Nearly, nearly...” he chanted to himself.

I closed my eyes. It changed nothing but it allowed me to get a grip on my breathing and then my hysteria. I still had enough wits to notice we were not dead, the ground felt smoother under the wheels, smoother than any track we had driven in the last couple of days. I could almost fool myself into thinking we were just travelling along a normal road. I kept my eyes closed.

Suddenly Egg slammed on the brakes, the truck slewed slightly as it came to a halt. I opened my eyes. Egg was leaning back in his seat, panting. Gradually a combination of increasing light and my vision adapting brought me an awareness of our surroundings.

Right in front of us was a huge tree. We were on the edge of a forest clearing. Behind us were more trees and undergrowth. Somehow we had carved a path through the woods without leaving a trail

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