Novel Serialisation – The Killing of Alex Millar – Ep 12

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THE KILLING

 OF 

ALEX MILLAR

© BM 2008

***

CHAPTER Nine

Chapter Nine – Episode 12

For some reason his temazapan did not work very well, and he woke up at about three in the morning and spent three further hours tracing the aircraft’s route up through the dry heart of Africa, following its painstaking progress on the map displayed on the screen.  A passing stewardess inquired if he would like something, and he asked for a double whiskey.  It did not make any difference, he was still wide-awake, but half-drunk.   He tried an other double, which had the perverse effect of making him stone cold sober, and even wider awake.  He attempted to sleep, but sleep was not playing, and he tried to hide the snail like progress across the map by wearing the eyeshade, but it only hurt his eyes, and he took it off.  He thought a little more and in irritation he put on his sunglasses and tried the eyeshade over those.  It was darker, but he still could not sleep, so he removed the lot and stared grumpily at the screen.

He couldn’t believe that the aircraft had only covered ten kilometres since he had last looked.  God, if this damm thing goes any slower, I could get out and walk.  He tried cheating, by looking at the distance covered in kilometres, and the distance to go in miles.  It didn’t work.  Whatever way he studied it, there was a bloody long way to go, and that was only Paris, he still had to carry on to London.

Finally, he gave up, and lay back in the seat and gave himself over to thinking.  He knew what was wrong.  All the time in Zaire he had known how badly he missed Francesca, and he was frightened.  This was something he had never experienced before, this deep ache, this feeling of not being able to concentrate on the job in hand.  In Kinshasa, running into the roadblock, when the firing began, and the glass was shattering all around them, he thought of Francesca.  In those few seconds, as the shards of broken glass seemed to hang suspended in the air, like shimmering stars, and life had slowed down to running at one hundredth of real time speed, he had prayed, “Oh, God, get me out of this, I want to see her again.”   That was his overwhelming and overpowering emotion, a fear that he might never see her again.  He tried to analyse these feelings and could not.  He had never experienced this before, not in the humid and putrid jungles of Malaya, or in the bleak damp and frost of East Falkland.  Never for Anne, never for Charlie, but now he could not clear his mind of a girl he had known, really known for six weeks.

He was fifty-two, and in love, but he had been in love before, with Anne, and with Charlie.  He was not in love with either one now, and though he thought of Anne frequently, it was with feelings of guilt, and not of love.  He thought of Charlie not at all, and even before meeting Francesca, his thoughts of her were normally of anger, and not love.  He was frightened, perhaps one day he would feel the same way about Daina.  He shook his head, angrily, to clear out such thoughts.

“Are you all right, sir?  Can I get you something?”

He smiled at the stewardess, feeling very foolish.  “No, thanks, I’m fine.  Thanks anyway.”

She smiled back in the manner of one dealing with a recalcitrant child.

Does she love me?  She says she does, and she seems to, but how do you know?  How does anyone ever know?  He looked at his watch.  Five, Jesus, another hour.  His mind began replaying previous conversations with her, analysing her words, seeking meanings that were perhaps hidden, or finding meanings that were never intended.  Should he feel this way?  Perhaps Julie had been on the money.  The time was right for him.  She could not say if it was right for Francesca.  Perhaps she knew something.  Women always seemed to know things; always seemed to know everything.  I wish I was home.  I will be able to tell when I put my arms around her, I’ll know then.  Or she might return to the mood she had in the first days in Florida.  God, that was awful.  She was so distant, another person, and a person he had not known.

They arrived at Roissy at last, landing at just after six, and then taxied for what seemed like ages.  “I know what’s bloody happening,” he snarled to himself, “We’re going to that bloody terminal out in the bush.”  He was right.  Many Air France flights from Africa were obliged to use the most distant of CDG’s three terminals, and passengers with connecting flights were required to take the shuttle bus to Terminals One or Two.  At least the resulting ‘stuffing around’ was enough to take his mind away from Francesca for a little while.  She never left his thoughts for very long.

As he sat in the shuttle, he remembered that he had checked in his bag at Libreville, and thought “Shit, I won’t see that again for a while.”  It had happened twice before, in similar circumstances, and he had every expectation that it would happen again, today.  It was going to be one of those days.

He was wrong, everything went smoothly.  The BA flight was early, it had no problem with Air Traffic Control, and his bag arrived in the Baggage Hall after only a ten-minute wait.  All it needed was Francesca, who had said she would pick him up.  And there she was, holding up a little sign that said “Daina.”  He pushed through the crowd, as she did the same.  His bag dropped, disregarded, to the ground, as they threw their arms around each other.  They just held each other, without speaking, without kissing, for fully a minute.   He felt her body pressed hard against his, as she melted against him.

He held her face away from him, and noticed that her cheeks were wet with tears.

“I thought you would be killed.”

He wiped under her eyes with his index finger.  “Yes, so did I.  The bastards tried, but they missed.”   They kissed.  The world was back on its axis.

“Come on,” she said, “I’ll take you home, and then I must go to work.”

“Did you come here in the Capri?”

“Do not be silly, Alex.  Would you come in the Capri or the BMW, if you had a choice?”

“You have taken over my car, and now you are taking over my life, Daina.”

“If you do not like it, Mr Journalist, just tell me and I will leave.”

He stopped, as they were leaving the lift into the car park, causing a young Indian couple pushing a baggage trolley behind them a momentary difficulty. 

“Sorry,” he said to the young couple, and then to Francesca, “Don’t even joke about such things.  If you ever have to go, just go, but please, please, do not say it as a joke.”

She kissed him.  “Come on, silly.”

And the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, and Alex and Francesca became closer and closer.  He still had to go on assignments, which he kept as short as he could, and less often she went on photo shoots, but in between, they were inseparable.  In an average week, he spent two or three days at her place, and she developed the same pattern in his.  They had spare keys cut, and maintained little supplies of clean clothes in the other’s house.   He was working at home one day, when he heard the engine noise of the Capri outside.  He went to the front door, and opened it, waiting for her to appear.  She was carrying several shopping bags.

“Don’t just stand there, Ulsterman, take these dammed bags.”

He did so, and kissed her at the same time, leading the way into the kitchen.

“Do you want the good news, or the better news?”

She regarded him quizzically, and cocked her head on one side.  “OK, go on.  I do not really mind which you give me first.”

“I love you.”

“Which is that, the good news, or the better?”

“Good news, I think.  The better news is that I have to go to Kenya, to do some pre election coverage, and I was wondering if you could get away for a while and join me.”

She wrapped her arms around him, and pressed herself close to him.  “I think that the first item was the better news, and yes, I think I can manage it, and I would love to go to Kenya.”

About ten days later, his copy filed, he waited anxiously at Jomo Kenyatta International, with his driver, a very large and cheerful Kikuyu who enjoyed the remarkable first name of Wilberforce.  Wilberforce had become Alex Millar’s bosom friend when, on introduction, Alex had enquired if the driver’s first name was in memory of William Wilberforce, the nineteenth century anti slavery campaigner. 

“Yes, sir.  Do you know William Wilberforce?”

“Well, not personally, but, yes, I have heard of him.”

Wilberforce exchanged a high five with Alex, and said, “Yes!”

Francesca arrived, and Alex thought she had never looked more lovely, despite the early hour, and her loss of a night’s sleep.  Wilberforce rushed to seize her suitcase, and Alex introduced them. 

“Francesca, this is my friend, Wilberforce.  Wilberforce, Francesca.”

The big Kenyan shook hands formally, and picked up her case again.  “Jambo.  Nice to meet you, Mrs Millar.  Your husband has not stopped talking about you for a week.”

Alex and Francesca exchanged glances, and she replied, “Thanks, Wilberforce, but we are not married.”

The big African looked from one to the other.  “Mr Millar, you don’t look crazy, but you must be.”  He strode off purposefully with the luggage.

In the afternoon, Wilberforce took them on a sightseeing tour of Nairobi, interspersing his tourist guide comments with caustic observations on life in modern Kenya, the never ending problems posed by tribalism, and particularly on the Government of Daniel Arap Moi.  Francesca enjoyed the discussions between the two men, and sensed that Alex was letting the journalist in him take over.  She could imagine that, even as he was speaking, Alex was formulating in his head ‘ the report from our correspondent in Nairobi’, quoting the views of the man in the street.  She laughed.

“What’s tickling you?” he asked.

“Nothing, just you.”

“What about me?” he demanded.

“Nothing.  Just shut up, darling, and watch the scenery.”

They went to the Giraffe Centre, and fed the long necked, gentle animals from a round hut, built on stilts, about ten feet above the ground.   Wilberforce explained how the Centre had come into existence, and the different types of giraffes who were protected there.  Neither Francesca nor Alex had known previously that there was more than one type.  Wilberforce repeated the names of the five or six sub species.

“Can you remember all that, Alex,” she demanded.  “Tell me their names.”

“Rothschild, and articulated.  No, not any of the others, oh, wait, there may be a western highland, or something like that.”

“I think it was reticulated, not articulated,” she giggled.

They bought some tins of food, brown pellets of maize or something similar.  Francesca poured some into her hand and approached the large head with its interested brown eyes, which peered over the platform railing.   She squealed as the giraffe’s long tongue licked the pellets from her hand, and went looking for more.   She backed away as the animal’s long neck followed further into the viewing area.

“Oh, it’s rough.” She withdrew her hand, laughing, and wiped it on her jeans.  “And it’s wet and sticky.”

He offered her a handkerchief.

“Is this the one you had in Angola?”  she demanded.

“Yes,” he replied in mock humility.  “I only have one handkerchief.  I am just a poor journalist, you know.”

“But have you washed it since then?”

“Oh yes, at least once since then.”

“You are a slob, Alex.  Do you know that?”

“I suspect I need a good woman to look after me, and rid me of my slobbish bachelor habits.  You don’t happen to know of anyone, do you?  It could be a good job for the right person.”

“No, can’t say that I do.  I do not really think I could recommend you to any of my friends, bambino.”  She added the last word provocatively.

“Hey, lady” he said in a very bad imitation of an Italian accent.  “I ama nota your bambino, or anybody’s bambino.”

She wagged her finger at him.  “Do thata oncea mora, and you mighta finda horse’s head on youra pillow.  OK?”

He started giggling, and ended up coughing.  He saw Wilberforce staring at him.  “You sure you folks aren’t married, Mr Alex?”

Alex offered her the contents of his food tin and she returned to the fray.  The giraffe had an expectant look in its eyes.  As it ate from her left hand, she stroked its head with her right.

“What are those things, Wilberforce?” pointing to the peculiar knobs on the top of the animal’s head.

“That’s how you tell if it is a male or female, Miss.”

“What is this one?”

“It’s a boy, Miss.”

“Do you think I might get him too excited, Wilberforce?”

“Well, Miss, you would if it was me.”  Wilberforce bellowed with laughter.  

Wilberforce then took them to the Animal Orphanage, where young animals whose parents had died, or been killed, were raised until, perhaps, they were released back into the wild.  It also contained a few sad creatures who had been presented to President Moi over the years by visiting VIP’s, and had nowhere else to go.  One very downhearted looking tiger morosely prowled around an enclosure which was much too small for him.  They all stared at him with a morbid fascination.  Wilberforce explained that it had been one of a pair, presented by the Indian Prime Minister, but that the female tiger had died.  “Hmmm,” mused Millar to himself, “I know how you feel, old boy.  We need them much more than they need us.”

“You like to see the lions?”  Wilberforce looked at them, in confident anticipation of their reply.

“Yeah, love to,” they replied as one, and Alex added “Are they the ones with the stripes?”

Wilberforce pondered this for a moment.  “No, they are the zebras.”

Francesca and Wilberforce exchanged high fives. 

“My brother works here.  He might let you hold the lion cubs.”

Asante sana, Wilberforce.”  Millar was delighted, especially for Francesca.

Karibou sana,” replied Wilberforce.  He was as good as his word.  His brother was working, and gave each of them a small lion cub to hold, causing Francesca to make cooing noises as if she was holding a baby.

“How old are they?” she whispered.

Lincoln, Wilberforce’s younger brother whispered back, “About six or seven weeks.”

She stroked the cub’s head, kissed it and it gently licked her hand.  Millar tried stroking his small charge, and the little cub slashed at him with its paw, leaving two bloody trails down his left forearm.

“Christ!” he said, as Lincoln took the young lion back from him.

Francesca glared at him. “You frightened it.”

“It frightened me,” he said, dabbing at the blood.

“Don’t be so silly, it’s only a baby, it can’t harm you.”

“Don’t tell me, tell it.  And look at my arm.”

“You’re a great big baby, Alex.”

She reached out and stroked the offending lion who looked at her with what Millar could swear was pure love, and without the slightest suggestion that it might attack anyone.  He scowled at the little cub.  “Bloody sexist!”

Wilberforce began treating the twin cuts with his own handkerchief.  “You are a Masai warrior now, Alex bwana.  You have fought Simba, and you have survived.  You will have great honour among all the men, because you are the lion’s brother.”

“Oh shut up, Wilberforce.  Hakuna matata, hakuna matata.”  He pulled his arm away, and wrapped his own handkerchief around the cuts.  He then remembered that it was probably alive with whatever bacteria might be contained in giraffe saliva, and removed it again.

They were all roaring with laughter now, except Alex, who could see nothing funny.  And so, he became Simba, the lion’s brother, and thus he remained to Francesca in the time they were together.  Daina and Simba.

They stayed two nights at the Safari Park Hotel, marvelling at the long line of black London taxicabs queuing at the entrance to the driveway.

“They got lost coming out of Heathrow,” explained Alex, “turned left at the M4 instead of right.”

They ate in the Carnivore Restaurant, and watched the African dancers perform.  “I think they about as genuine as I would be” he sniffed.

“Be a good boy and keep quiet.  I’m enjoying it.  What did he say this was?”  She indicated a piece of meat on her plate.

“Impala.”

“Hmmm, and that one?”

“Crocodile.”

“Ugh, but not as bad as your pork scratchings.”

The waiter returned, and sliced more pieces of meat from a long skewer.  “Giraffe” he announced, and marched off.

“What did he say?” Francesca demanded indignantly.

“I think you heard what he said.  He said it was giraffe.”

“I can not eat that.  I have been playing with them this afternoon.  Simba, you are not to eat that sweet gentle animal.”

“That sweet, gentle, dead animal” he observed, obediently pushing the small piece of meat to the side of his plate nonetheless.

Early on their third day, the ever cheerful Wilberforce took them to Wilson Airport, and they climbed into a tight little twelve seater, to fly to the Masai Mara.  There were eight other passengers.  The flight was long, at low altitude, and very rough.  Alex tried his best, by staring intensely out of the small window at Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro but nothing worked, as he was airsick and needed the paper bag.  They were pleased when their journey ended and they could exchange the aircraft for a Land Rover.  The landing strip was of grass, and the air hung all around them, dry and dusty, as they waited to depart.   There were two dilapidated wooden buildings at the edge of the landing strip, one signed ‘Toilets’, and the other ‘Duty Free Shop’.  Someone, at least, had a sense of humour around here.  They were whisked to the safari lodge, a distance of two or three miles. 

They were required to walk about one hundred yards from the main gate of the lodge to their tent, with a smiling nineteen year old Kenyan dragging their suitcases along after him.

“I’ll take one of those” offered Alex.

“Oh, no, sir” replied the cheerful one, “I can manage.”

They reached their tent, and Henry, for such was the cheerful one’s name, put down the cases, and unzipped the tent fly.  “Please, madam, sir, please enter.  This is a premium tent.”

And it truly was.  It was like no tent that Alex had ever seen in his life.  It was magnificent.  There was a separate shower and toilet area.  The toilet flushed, as Francesca quickly demonstrated.  There were the obligatory mosquito nets, but Henry assured them that there were no mosquitoes in the Masai Mara at this time of year, as it was too dry.  There was electric lighting, and Alex almost expected television, which there wasn’t, but there was a telephone, which Henry blandly stated could connect with anywhere in the world, a statement that Alex doubted.

Francesca, who had had doubts about sleeping in a tent, was satisfied.  “Thank you, Henry.  This is fine, I am sure we will enjoy it here.”

She turned to Alex as Henry made his smiling departure.  “Well, Simba, this is better than the last time I spent in a tent with you.”

He put his arms around her and kissed her forehead.  “Yes, little Daina, and we do not have to share a chicken with Major Fernandes this time.  In any case, it was a mud hut last time, not a tent.”

“I like it here.  Where’s the worst place you have ever been to,  Simba?”

They remained with their arms locked around each other, rocking slightly from side to side, as he considered the question, their physical closeness bringing comfort.   “Hmmm, that’s difficult.  Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Mali.  Yes, probably Mali, but I would settle for a mud hut in Mali, if we were there together.”

“You old smoothie.  Asante sana, anyway, Englishman.”

“Let’s make a deal.  Don’t call me English, and I won’t call you bambino.  OK?”

“OK,” she laughed and broke away from him.  “Now, it is time for a shower, if we want to go out tonight.”

There was also a fridge stocked with a variety of drinks. Alex had a shower and then a Tusker while Francesca showered, and both declared themselves ready for their evening safari.

Their driver was a young man called Peter from Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, in the west of Kenya. They had two fellow passengers, a Turkish couple, pleasant enough, whose English was better than Alex’s Turkish, not a difficult proposition, as he had no Turkish, so they all spoke English.  The air was quite cool, as they set off in the early evening, and they were both pleased they had brought sweaters.  Peter drove the Land Rover along a series of rough four wheel drive tracks, and all four passengers found that it was more comfortable to stand and hang on to the handrails around the vehicle than to bounce around in the seats.

There was an abundance of wildlife, and on this, their first evening, they saw hundreds, perhaps a thousand Thompson’s’gazelles, small attractive antelopes, normally called ‘Tommies’.  They also saw many of the ungainly wildebeests, and a pair of small dik diks.

“The second smallest of all the antelopes,” Peter whispered, as they sat motionless, with the engine switched off, watching the tiny animals nibbling the lower shoots of bushes with their gentle mouths.  “They mate for life” their guide went on.  “Not many animals do that.”

“No, and not too many people do it either,” thought Alex moodily.

Peter was a serious young man of about twenty-five, with a degree in zoology, and his interest in his animals was so deep, it was close to being love.   It was getting dark, and the red African sun was slipping down to die away to the west.

“I sometimes pretend to imagine the sun sliding into Lake Victoria, and going out, like a hot stick, and sizzling and throwing up smoke.”  Peter was pleased with his own imagery.

“You should have been a journalist” Alex told him.  “You have a good imagination.”

“You need a good imagination in this country, but mostly it is better to keep it to yourself.”

Alex and Francesca had a fine meal, with some excellent Kenyan wine, in the Lodge, and had no difficulty in falling asleep at once when they went to bed.  They were woken from a deep, deep sleep by a voice.  It was still dark.

“Good morning, sir, madam.  Your morning tea.”

“Thanks, asante sana” Alex called out.

They looked at each other.   “You didn’t mention tea, Alex.”

“I must have forgotten” he muttered, staggering out of bed, to fight with the zip of the tent. 

The tea was excellent, and they woke up in quite a short time.  While Francesca showered, he placed the tea tray outside the tent, and remained there, a towel wrapped around his waist, letting the cool clean air of the early African morning wash over him.  He watched the sun inching over the eastern horizon, gradually sending little shimmers of pale yellow light as emissaries to the rest of the night sky.  He had worked in Africa for some eight or nine years now, and had developed a very active love/hate relationship.  He hated the poverty, the famine, the squalor, the corruption, the bureaucracy, and the strutting arrogant soldiers, like those he had so recently left behind in Zaire.  Most of all, he hated the grinding hopelessness he encountered in so many countries.  He was not an aid worker, or a politician, or a businessman, but a reporter, and he realised that his work must inevitably bring him into contact with much that was the worst there was.  He knew that, and still he hated Africa, and often vowed to become a painter and decorator, or any bloody thing, and never return.

And then, so many things made him love this continent, Victoria Falls, ‘the smoke that thunders’, the view of Table Mountain across the Bay, the immense majestic expanse of Kariba, the Tommies grazing undisturbed, their small tails swinging at speed.  And there were also the people.  For all the crooked politicians, the cowardly soldiers, the corrupt officials, the mindless criminals in Jo’burg, there was another side.  You could meet Peter, speaking with authority and affection about the animals, ‘his’ animals; Francois in Kinshasa, railing against the indignities his own people had forced on the Zairean people; and the Shona waiter in Harare, advising, in confidential tones that the South African wine was superior to the Zimbabwean, and ‘Sir’ should try that instead.  And this was at a time when his country was almost at war with South Africa.

And then there was the morning, in the bush, cleansing the soul, and invigorating the spirit like a fine vintage wine, clear and sharp and bringing hope.  The hope never seemed to materialise in Africa, always being blown away by the realities of the day, as surely as the African sun would banish this hopeful morning.  Africa was a disease, an incurable disease.

“Are you staying out there all day?”

He went inside, and Francesca was naked, towelling herself.  He went towards her.  “My goodness, you look lovely.”

She held up the towel in front of her.  “No you don’t, mister.  We haven’t got the time.  Go and get showered, or you will not be able to play the great white hunter.”

Hakuna matata, oh great queen.”

“Don’t try to sweet talk me, just get in the shower.”

The next three days left them both spellbound, and would live in their memories for a very long time.  The rains earlier in the year had been good, and all the vegetation had flourished, which encouraged the grazing animals, on which the predators depended.  Peter once pointed to a group of Tommies.  “A leopard’s supermarket.”

They saw elephants, a group of about twenty, thundering across the grasslands, shouldering their way through the clumps of trees, with two young elephants protected in the centre of the herd, their little legs rushing to keep up.  Giraffes, now established as Francesca’s favourite animal, picked their awkward way on their stilt legs, to eat from the upper branches of trees.   Zebras abounded, frequently standing still and observing the people in the Land Rover as intently as they were observing the zebras.  The big cats were more elusive, but were eventually all traced, and admired.  A pride of eight or ten lions lay sleeping in the sun, working off the effects of a recent meal.  A big male lay on his back with all four paws in the air, totally oblivious.

“There are your friends, your brothers,  Simba,” she whispered, “do you want to go and play with them?”

“I’ll stay in the Land Rover, if you do not mind.”  He fingered the two long scars on his arm.  “If that is what the little ones can do, I do not want to meet their big brothers and sisters.”

There also saw a leopard, and her cub.  Well, they saw some of the mother, as she was partially hidden up a tree, and also sleeping off the after effects of a heavy meal.  Her four legs dangled over a thick branch, the rest of her body hidden by foliage.  Not far from the leopard, the remains of dinner, in the shape of the thin sad legs of a dead impala, were draped over a branch, dragged there for safe keeping.  There is no dignity in death, he reminded himself, whether it is an impala in the Masai Mara, or a service station manager in Kinshasa.

Peter was very good at his job, and under his guidance they saw hippos, rhinos, cheetahs, and a myriad of other animals and birds.  The only problem seemed to be that whenever one of the ‘big five’ animals was seen, it would be instantly surrounded by up to fifteen four-wheel drives.   Alex decided to show he had a little knowledge as well.

“Peter, the cheetah is a member of the cat family.  Is that right?”

“Of course, the fastest cat in the world.”

“Did you know that it is different from every other cat in the world?”

“No, I didn’t.  How is it different?”

“The cheetah is the only cat which can not retract its claws into its pads.”

“I did not know that.”  His face suggested that he was not prepared either to accept, or refute this statement without further investigation.

Alex felt very pleased with himself, and even more pleased the following day when Peter came to him, before they set out in the morning and said “You are right, Alex, about the cheetah.  I looked it up last night.  It’s true.”

Asante sana, Peter.  Not bad for a musungo.”

Peter smiled at his use of Swahili.  “No, not bad.  In Masai, we say ‘Ah she olay’.”  He said it slowly.

 Alex repeated it.  “Ah she olay.  Fine, what does it mean?”

Asante sana, thank you.”

Francesca looked from one to the other.  “When you two Simbas have finished the mutual admiration stuff, perhaps we can get into the Land Rover.  Vehbi and Funda would like to get on with their holiday.”

There were three safari drives scheduled each day, at six thirty in the morning, one in the afternoon and finally at five thirty in the evening.  Alex and Francesca decided that three drives a day was probably one too many, so they cancelled the middle drive, and spent the time at the pool.  Vehbi and Funda, who told them they were on honeymoon, had evidently arrived at the same conclusion, as they were also at the poolside.  There were two further ‘specials’ laid on by the Lodge.  The first was a bush breakfast, where, after their second morning drive, they sat high up, overlooking a lazy, turgid, brown river where the hippos submerged themselves seeking shelter from the sun.  Breakfast was the traditional bacon, eggs and sausage, and they washed it down with tea and orange juice, and felt very good about life.  It was all very English and redolent of colonial days.  Afterwards, they looked at several displays of Masai crafts set out on colourful rugs, and bought some gifts.  The Masai women said nothing, but the two men, splendid in tribal dress, spoke excellent English.

“Is it true,” Francesca asked, as she paid for her goods, “that Masai warriors are supposed to go off and fight a lion, before they can be a man?”

The taller of the two men, and apparently the more senior, smiled at her.  “I suppose you heard that in Nairobi.  They think we are all savages out here.  It used to be true, but, no, not any more.  It has been forbidden in Kenya for around twenty five years to kill animals, and anyway, we would not do that in the National Park, as it would drive the tourists away.”

Millar, listening to this, thought, as he examined the price tag on a short spear that he wanted for Richard, “No, it’s a damm sight easier to rip off the tourists than go out hunting animals.  The tourists do not run away, or fight back.”  However, he nodded agreement to the Masai.  After all, the spear he carried might be real.

The second ‘special’ to which they were treated by the Lodge was a ‘bush dinner’.  After it had become dark, Peter picked them up in the Land Rover, and deposited them at their campsite.  They were astonished and delighted at the lavish arrangements, which had been laid on.  There was a huge campfire, burning up to ten or a dozen feet in the air, and spiralling rivers of sparks into the night sky.  There was a chef, a waiter, a waitress and a security guard, all for two people.  The animals stayed away, although Peter had advised that hippos went out at night foraging, and were not a creature that one should trifle with, as they had a top speed of twenty five miles an hour, weighed up to two tons, and would allow nothing, or no one to get between them and the river.  Peter had asked them which animal they thought killed more people in Africa than any other.  Francesca had suggested the crocodile, and Alex had plumped for the lion.   With what appeared satisfaction, Peter provided the answer that the hippo killed over a thousand people a year, more than all the animals put together.

The food and the wine were excellent, and they sat very contentedly, with their coffees in front of a dying fire, looking into the embers, as people always do.

Alex looked at Francesca, staring at the red heart of the fire.  He had an overwhelming sense of tenderness towards her.  Africa, England, America, and now they were back in Africa once more.

“I love you,” he said softly.

She turned and took his hand.  “I love you, too.”

“Will you marry me, Francesca?”

She took her hand away.  “Don’t go and spoil things, Alex.”   

It was raining when they got back to Gatwick, but that was not unexpected, and almost welcome.  The greenness of the fields as they made their final approach was startling, especially after the dry brown grasslands of Kenya.  Their normal, day to day, lives quickly imposed themselves upon Francesca and Alex, and after a week, it seemed like a year since they had been in the Masai Mara, looking at the pair of dik diks gracefully nibbling the bushes.  Things between them seemed to be the same, and after a week, he was able to convince himself that he was worrying unduly about her abrupt rejection of his offer of marriage.  “Perhaps it really is too early”, he told himself.  “After all, it has only been six months since she got divorced.”  Nevertheless, he was not totally convinced, and the matter remained, a small but persistent black cloud, constantly lingering unasked at the back of his mind, always just visible in the corner of his eye.  It was not too long, however, before he had other matters to occupy his mind, which were to drive out his doubts, at least in the short term.

He drove to Francesca’s early one evening, to pick her up for dinner.  It was dark and he parked the BMW behind the Capri, in the driveway.  As he went to the front door, he could hear her on the telephone, and noticed that the lights were on in the upstairs bedroom.   She was screaming, something he had not heard before, screaming into the phone.  He waited a few moments, and rang the bell.  The screaming continued, and he rang again.  She either could not hear him, or did not want to answer.  He waited outside the house for about five minutes, but the noise from upstairs continued.  He was not able to make out anything that was being said, but she was clearly involved in a heated argument.  He felt like an eavesdropper, so he went back to the car and drove off.  He stopped outside a nearby pub, parked and went inside.  He was shaking.  He did not know to whom she had been talking, but the vehemence and anger in her voice had disturbed him. 

“Yes, mate?”

“I’ll have a Glenmorangie, please, ice, no water.”

He drank the whiskey slowly, and found he was still shaking.  He tried to analyse this in his mind, but couldn’t.  He waited fifteen minutes and went to the phone, but her number was engaged.  He tried twice more before the number rang.

“I’ve told you not to….”

“Francesca, Francesca, it’s Alex.”

“Alex, I, I, oh, go away.”

Slowly he replaced the handset, and stared at it for several long seconds.  What in God’s name is going on?  He thought of ringing her again, and had the phone in his hand before he changed his mind.  He did not know what was happening, but he sensed he had better stay away at present.

***

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