The River That Saved Me by Kara Benson

Kara Benson
By Kara Benson April 1, 2013 15:42

The River That Saved Me by Kara Benson

Summary:

The young photographer Tess is determined to follow her own path in life against her father’s wishes. Leaving her sheltered life in Germany behind, she travels to Africa on a photo shoot, finds love and is thrown into a turmoil of emotions when she is confronted with death. Events lead her from Kenya to Zimbabwe and the Dark Continent casts her spell … it is the majestic Zambezi which helps her to heal and grow, but that spell is relentless … 

Extended synopsis of the book Show

According to the author, this book contains descriptive writing about sexual acts between consenting adults.

The author has rated this book R (not suitable for those 17 and under).

Excerpt:

Chapter 7

They stayed with Tom’s friends in their one-bedroom cottage tucked away in the beautiful garden. Whenever he was in Nairobi, Tom lodged with his friend Greg Lewis, whom he had known since medical school. Tess liked Greg and his wife Janine. They were warm and very welcoming. Their four year old twins were sweet, but Janine warned Tess, that their urge to explore could cause havoc in their cottage and with her camera equipment.

“You have to watch them the whole time.” Janine warned her.

Tess found the way people had to secure their homes in Nairobi’s green, leafy suburbs bothersome. Driving along tree lined streets, Tess was surprised at the most awesome potholes, even in the better areas. You could hardly ever see the houses or gardens as the view was obstructed by high walls with electric fencing on top and even glass shards. Electric gates were remote controlled and the houses fully alarmed. Most people had several large guard dogs as well and so-called panic buttons. In case of an attack, you pressed the button which sent a signal out to a security company who would then rush out to assist you – hopefully, potholes permitting.

Greg and Janine took them to a friend’s place for dinner and they had a nice evening. It was past eleven and the twins had long since fallen asleep on their sleeping rugs on the carpet. Finally they were all on their way home. Janine and Tess sat in the back with the sleeping twins between them. Tess was holding a bowl of chicken soup on her lap. Janine’s friends had insisted on them taking some food home, as they were going on holiday and wanted their fridge empty. At this time of night, the streets in the suburbs were quiet and there was no traffic. Tess noticed how Greg kept looking into the rear mirror and Janine had started to turn around too.

Tess felt uneasy. “What’s wrong?”

“A car is following us,” Greg said. “I don’t like it.”

“No, doesn’t look good. Could be hijackers.” Janine looked out of the rear window again.

“Hijackers? What do they want?” Tess’s heart was beating faster.

“They force you out of your car at gun point, when you are standing outside your gate. Then they steal your car or even come inside the house and take all your valuables. After that they make their escape in your car,” Janine explained matter of factly.

“How long have they been following us?” Tom asked Greg.

“Too long. At least four kilometres now.”

Looking back Tess saw two headlights very close behind them. “Do they harm people?”

“You cannot stop at your gate now!” Tom’s voice sounded different.

Greg kept looking into the mirror. “I know and I won’t.”

“Greg, turn into that dirt road just before your house, the one that leads across the sports field. You can drive all the way through and come out on Coventry Road. Take the next right and it’ll take us straight to Highfield Police Station. There we can stop and pick up a police escort. Don’t slow down before the turn off, you might shake them off!”

Suddenly Greg swung the car around to the right. Tess only saw bushes and trees illuminated by their headlights and thought, we’ll crash into the trees now! But Greg had skilfully steered the car onto the dirt track and was racing along at what seemed an incredible speed. Tess felt something wet on her thighs. The chicken soup! Janine was holding down the twins who kept on sleeping untroubled. Soon they came out at the other end and Greg continued to zoom down that road. They all looked out of the rear window. No headlights were to be seen.

Greg made two more turns until the reassuring lights of the police station came up. Greg went inside to fetch help.

Tom turned to Tess, taking her hand. “Are you ok, Tess?”

“We should be fairly safe outside a police station shouldn’t we?” She smiled at him hoping he wouldn’t notice how flustered she felt.

Tom nodded and smiled at her. “They’re still asleep?” He looked at the sleeping twins.

“It’s one of their best features. They sleep very soundly. You could hardly wake them if you wanted to.”

Greg reappeared with two police men, each holding a rifle. One squeezed into the front seat with Tom, the other opened the door on Tess’s side and she quickly moved to make a little room for him. He didn’t know where to put his rifle in the cramped space so Tess opened the window for him to stick it out.

“Thanks,” she said to the police man. “I’d rather you keep the dangerous end out of the window. It’s a bit crowded in here right now.”

“It smells nice in here,” he said.

“Chicken soup,” Tess replied. “Or what’s left of it.”

“Ah, nice.” The policeman seemed to like chicken soup.

In the meantime, they had reached their street again. Just before Greg and Janine’s house a small crowd of people had gathered around a car which had crashed sideways into a small tree. Greg pulled the car over and rolled down his window. A man came staggering away from the damaged car into the middle of the road.

“Isn’t Tony Sheppard?” Janine asked.

Greg nodded. “It’s our next door neighbour. What is he doing here?”

The man came swaying towards them. Leaning onto their car he started to shout at them.

“Lewis, you got me into this mess! You … you disappeared suddenly … suddenly you were gone!” Tony belched and turned to the policemen who had got out of the car.

“I was following Lewis’ car, ‘cos he’s my neighbour and he would guide me home. You see …,” he belched again balancing himself on the bonnet of the car. “I had a beer at the local and it was hard to see the road and I thought I’d get lost. Then I saw Lewis driving past me, so I quickly followed him. He’d take me home … “Lewis, it’s all your fault, look at the damage to my nice car! Why did you disappear suddenly and leave me all alone?”

Greg suppressed a chuckle. Janine punched Tess’s arm and grinned. “That’s our neighbour alright.”

“Where do you live?” One of the policemen asked him.

“Over there, right there. I almost made it, if Lewis hadn’t disappeared. It’s not fair, Lewis.”

Another neighbour had come to their car. “Hi there Greg. Seems good old Tony has had one too many again. He made one hell of a commotion, standing in the street hollering out loud. I heard him call your name, so I went to check.” He nodded to Janine in the back. “Got the twins there? Better take them home. I’ll make sure Tony finds his front door. Good thing you brought the police. They can sort out the rest.”

Janine warmed the chicken soup for the policemen, after they had managed to push Tony’s car into his front yard. They seemed to think the whole thing was rather funny.

“Thanks a lot Madam. If you have more trouble with hijackers you can call us. I’m Constable Odieni and I like your soup.”

The twins slept through all of this and were carried off to their cots. The adults had a night cap and a really good laugh about their late night adventure.

“I’m glad this ended so peacefully,” Greg said.

Tom and Tess were sitting on the sofa and he had his arm around her shoulder, holding her close. Tom nodded. “Yes, it could’ve been quite different.”

Janine smiled. “Welcome to Nairobi, Tess. Now you know why they call it Nai-robbery.”

“What struck me is this extreme contrast between rich and poor. In some suburbs you have huge mansions and then you have these appalling shanty towns where people have to fight for their drinking water.” Tess shook her head. “Can’t the government do anything about it?”

Greg grinned. “Good question. It has to do with African leaders, their willingness to take responsibility or rather unwillingness. African culture means tribalism which is actually encouraged by Western Nations who like to see Africans remain the eternal victims of colonialism, which in turn allows them to be the do-gooders.”

“You are going to be around for a while, so you can see for yourself.” Janine said getting up. “It’s late and the twins will wake me early. Africa is always unpredictable, for better or for worse. Expect that anything can happen anytime!”

Tess had an appointment with some people from National Parks the next day. Tom had been busy using his contacts after Tess had left for Germany, to find work for her. He had shown them copies of Tess’s photographs, taken in the Kenyan bush and those from the resort on the coast. They were interested because National Parks were preparing a presentation on their anti-poaching work, in order to raise funds both nationally and internationally. Naturally, she was a little nervous, but having Tom by her side reassured her. The people from National Parks were very friendly and suggested that she could accompany an anti-poaching team in the bush for a week or so. They warned her that such a tour meant living quite rough but Tess was thrilled and excited that she had a job already.

Tom had to go to Johannesburg for a week to attend a medical seminar so it worked out perfectly. He flew her out to Meru National Park, north-east of Nairobi, a park which covers an area of over 870 square kilometres (143 square miles). Adjacent to the north-east border lies Bisanadi National Reserve covering 606 square kilometres (233 square miles) and Kora National Park to the South which is linked up with yet another National Reserve. Several anti-poaching teams were to patrol the park and the reserves simultaneously to assure maximum coverage and prevent poachers from just slipping across a boundary river. The rangers were at constant war with the poachers. It was like a military operation. Their routes and time lines were coordinated to ensure maximum efficiency and enable a strike with joint forces if needed. National Parks wanted Tess to show the ongoing, strenuous, day-to-day work and hardships the anti-poaching teams had to face on their patrols. From her photos, a little booklet was to be produced to show tourists how their entry fees to the Parks were utilized for the protection of the wildlife.

With a quick kiss goodbye and a few words in Kiswahili to the head of the anti-poaching team, Tom left. The vehicles were all packed up and ready to go. The driver’s cabin was separated from the two benches in the back by a sliding glass window. The cab in the back had only half-doors and canvas curtains which could be rolled down at night or during a downpour. At least there was a proper roof. Tess found herself on the front bench behind the driver’s cabin, squeezed in with bundles of gear and black men in green, National Parks uniforms. Their party was made up of five men and one woman, so she did not feel so out of place. John, a white man in his forties was the head of the unit. They all greeted her in a friendly fashion and they soon set off.

An hour later Tess almost regretted her decision to join them. She had hit her head on the car frame at least four times and urgently needed a wee. A soft bundle stuffed between her and the door prevented further damage to her head but her bladder ached with each lurch of the vehicle. They travelled through thorny bush for the first hours, then entered the dense riverine vegetation of doum and raffia palms. They stopped frequently to check spoors and notes were made to record the numbers and movement of different species. Tess took advantage of the brief stop to dash behind some dense foliage and squat to relieve herself. She felt a bit concerned about crawling insects but the relief was worth it and she was smiling as she rejoined the rangers.

By late afternoon they were in very dense bush. John explained that this area was off limits to tourists and had no tracks and they would leave the vehicle behind. The car was hidden away and they all shouldered their packs. They walked for about an hour through the almost impenetrable bush, with Tess in the middle of the line, protected from the worst of the thorns. John selected their camp site for the night high up on a rocky outcrop over a small river. No animal or human would be able to creep up on them from that side. They had a small fire going and the lady ranger cooked ugali and brown beef stew. A hot cup of tea warmed them before turning in. The fire was extinguished for the scent of smoke carried far. They had thin foam mats under their sleeping bags and plastic ponchos on top to keep off the dew. It was a bit chilly being August. Tess felt a little strange lying between the woman ranger, Sisi and a man called Mwalimu, who was already snoring gently but she gazed up at the vast, black expanse of the African night with its millions of stars and felt very privileged. She savoured the quietness with only the faint murmur of the river below.

In the morning they had a quick cup of tea. Tea in the African bush, you get in a metal mug too hot to hold onto. When you try to take a sip you smell the smoke from the wood fire it was cooked on, before you taste the bitter sweetness of the strong tea. There would be many more cups of strong, sweet and smoky tea to come for Tess. There had been elephant nearby at night. They followed their tracks and soon found other tracks joining in, human tracks.

They hid their packs and the rangers checked their rifles. They asked Tess if she wanted to stay behind, but she wouldn’t hear of it. They briefed her on the code of conduct from now on: no talking and watch out for hand signals from the others, and be ready to duck! Poachers have guns and they use them too! Their best tracker was leading now and they fanned out. Tess stayed in the rear. She felt very clumsy and loud in comparison with the Kenyans who moved almost soundlessly. For two hours they marched on and on, silently through dense bush, scratched by thorns, their boots wet and soggy from the muddy patches and creeks they had to cross. Without her running practice, she might not have been up to such a hike. Every so often they stopped, squatted and listened. The rangers cupped their ears to improve their hearing, then the lead tracker gave a sign. He pointed ahead and made a circle with his forefinger and thumb. Poachers! John made a sign for the others to walk around to close in from all sides. He signalled to Tess to stay where she was, crouched on the ground. Tess was amazed at the trackers’ skills, for she had neither seen nor heard anything. The rangers disappeared into the foliage. There was no sign left of their ever having been there and Tess felt very alone and vulnerable. Should I try to get closer to see what is happening? My noise might give them away and spoil everything, I’d better wait. Tess waited for what seemed an endless time. Her legs were going numb. Carefully she changed her position. I might have to run suddenly and can’t have my legs fold under me then.

Without warning all hell broke loose. There was crashing and thrashing of undergrowth ahead of her and shouting. Then gun fire opened up and people started screaming. More crashing noise was followed by shouting and screaming. Tess found herself running towards it all without having made a conscious decision. Dashing through the bush she paid no attention to thorns tearing at her arms or branches hitting her legs. Abruptly she stood in a small clearing. She saw one of the rangers pointing his gun at a body on the ground. A thin man was lying face down while a second ranger was tying his hands behind his back. Then he tied up his legs as well.

“Stay here!” They both yelled at Tess and ran into the bush after their colleagues.

Tess stood frozen where she was. She became aware of a foul, sweet stench. She looked at the man on the ground. Tattered clothes covered a thin frame with the shoulder blades visible through the frayed shirt. Not a sound or movement came from him. She looked around. Camouflage tarpaulins served as two makeshift shelters at the edge of the small clearing. A small circle of stones held ashes from last night’s fire. Now she noticed that most of the space was taken up by poles on which strips of meat were hanging to dry. That’s where the stench comes from. What a dreadful place of death and decay. Giving the tied up man a wide berth, she looked into the shelters. There was a huge pile of hides. Tess recognized zebra amongst them. Then she noticed the snares, hundreds if not thousands of them, vicious metal circles bringing slow and painful death and mutilation to animals. A large piece of canvas covered something bulky. Carefully Tess lifted a corner and stared mesmerized at countless tusks. Flesh and blood was still attached to their ends where they had been brutally hewn from the elephants’ heads. The stench made her retch. She felt something like acid coming up her throat. She dropped the canvas as if she had been burnt and ran for the edge of the clearing where she bent over to vomit, with shaking legs. She sat down on the ground and noticed that tears were running down her cheeks. She heard another gun shot. Soon after that the rangers returned with another poacher. They roughly pushed him into the clearing and he went to lie on his belly next to the other man. His hands were already tied. John radioed the operation HQ to report.

“Feel free to take photographs, but we’re leaving soon. Got to take these in.” He pointed at the two men on the ground.

Tess was grateful to have something to do. Methodically she photographed the poacher’s camp and the rangers trying to get the captive men to talk, recording the poached hides and tusks and poaching equipment. Finally, they were done and set off back to a meeting place where a helicopter would pick them up. Two rangers remained behind to guard the poachers’ camp. Porters would be sent in to carry away the contraband. Tess watched the two poachers being marched away. She hated what they did to the animals but she couldn’t help feeling pity for these two thin and frail looking men.

John waited to walk with Tess. “These are small fish, doing the donkey work. We need to get them to talk, to catch the big sharks operating these smuggling rings! These guys run the highest risk of getting caught, get paid a pittance and will always remain poor. The big time poachers are protected by some very influential men. Smuggling in Kenya goes right up the political ladder to the very top. If we really want to make a difference and stop poaching, we need to get the big fish running this show.”

“Don’t you get frustrated sometimes?” Tess asked.

John shrugged. “It’s part of my job. I like my job and do it the best I can. Sometimes we win, sometimes they win. If we were not here, they would always win and the animals would lose.”

He’s right, Tess thought. Watching these miserable men staggering along, she felt sorry for them, until the image of the bloody tusks returned.

A helicopter picked up the poachers from a meeting point and dropped off porters to assist the rangers left behind at the poachers’ camp. Tess and the three other rangers hiked back to their vehicle, spending another night camping in the bush. The stars were shining above as beautiful as before, but her thoughts kept returning to the images of dried meat, hides and bloody tusks. They had warned her that it would be rough, but she had never anticipated anything like this.

Chapter 8

The staff of the lodge was organizing a big braai for the New Year’s Eve party. Jim had informed them that the party would end shortly after midnight, and since they were in the bush, the noise would have to be kept down. Most guests had turned up for the sun downer around the fire outside.

Jim and another man came up to them.

“Tom, I’d like you to meet Stewart. He’s a pilot like you. He has brought some guests from Cape Town tonight.”

“Stewart, I’m Tom, ‘Flying doctors, East Africa’. So there’s an airstrip nearby?”

“Yes, just down the dirt road there. Not fancy, but it’s ok. Good to have a doctor around.”

The men were soon engaged in a conversation about flying in the bush, with Jim telling tales about patrolling for poachers.

“Here they go again. Male bonding and all the rest of it.” Tess rolled her eyes. She felt a bit alienated from Tom while he was so engrossed in his conversation with Jim and Stewart. A few minutes later, Tom turned around, his eyes searching for Tess. This gesture put Tess at ease and his wonderful smile made her melt away again.

“Look at these South Africans,” Eric said, indicating the loud, red faced group of men around the fire. “They are already pretty tanked up.”

Dinner was lively and the moods convivial, as all the guests were sharing two long tables. Later they sat around the big open fire under a starry sky, listening to tales of animal encounters by other guests. The South Africans had continued their drinking and the general noise level was increasing.

It was coming up to eleven when Andrea leant over to Tess and whispered in her ear. “Listen, Tess, I don’t want to be a spoilt sport but I’m getting really tired.”

“Me too. Actually I wouldn’t mind sneaking away to the bungalow, myself. Heavy boozing is not really my idea of having a good time.”

Andrea bent forward in her chair, stretching her back. “I’ve noticed that I need a lot more sleep now, since I’ve been pregnant and I don’t see the point in staying up until midnight. I rather have a good night’s sleep. I’ll just slip away.”

Tess nodded. “Wait, I’ll just let Tom know and I’ll go with you. I’m tired myself.” Tess quickly whispered into Tom’s ear.

“Ok, I’ll join you in a few minutes. I’ll just finish my drink. Rather spend my time with you in our bungalow than these … beef heads.” Tom kissed her on the cheek.

“Be with you soon, Andrea,” Eric said.

Tess and Andrea quietly left the circle of light around the fire and slipped away. The night was very dark, as there was only a new moon. Tess had her flashlight and escorted Andrea to their bungalow. They said good night and Tess went on quickly to her own bungalow, a little nervous of the rustles in the dark bushes. She had a nice shower and then stretched out on the cool sheets under the mosquito netting. Soon she heard Tom’s footsteps.

“Hi love, glad you didn’t want to stay up either. It wasn’t much fun really with those guys getting drunk.” Tom had a quick shower as well and then slipped stark naked under the sheet with her. “I know something which is much more fun … let’s see …”

His hands travelled over her breast, fondling her hardened nipples and then moved on across her belly and over the slight elevation of her Venus mound. Her cleft was moist, awaiting him. Lying face to face he caressed the centre of her lust, then picked up her legs and swung them over his hips. She spread her legs and still lying next to each other, he entered her, watching her face as she closed her eyes briefly with pleasure as he continued to tease her little knob. They were getting hot and sweaty and threw away the sheets. Tom stopped his movements and kissing her, he smiled. In the honey coloured light from one bedside lamp their glistening bodies seemed to be coated in golden oil.

“I want to make it last a bit longer. It’s the last time I’ll make love to you this year,” Tom said.

“There’ll be many more times next year, I hope.” Tess drank the blueness from his eyes and the love she felt for him saturated her body with a happiness, she had never known to exist.

Tom moved again inside her and suddenly her body trembled with lust and she moved her hips in time with his. Her body shuddered with her climax and shivered again when Tom moaned quietly and let his head sink back into the pillow. Leaving their bodies interlocked as they were, they gently caressed each other and drifted off into sleep.

Tess awoke suddenly. So did Tom. He sat up listening. Again, she heard a scream, a human scream, a deep sound indicating not only fear but unbearable pain. Tom was out of bed and putting on his trousers and shirt.

“Ring the alarm bell and check that Jim is coming,” he called back to her as he ran out of the bungalow. In the dim light of the door, she noticed him clutching his medical bag in one and a flashlight in the other hand.

In a trembling flurry, Tess pulled on her clothes. As she rang the bell, she heard more screams and now shouting. She wanted to grab something … a weapon. In her desperation she tore down a carved, wooden walking stick, decorating the wall and grabbed her flashlight. As she ran down the path towards the noise, Tess saw the beams of flashlights streaking over a huge, black bulk. Her heart was beating wildly now. Someone’s being mauled. Tess arrived at the scene and tried to grasp what she saw. A man was lying in the sand. The front of his shirt was soaked with blood and his belly was bulging, a bulge that could not be fat alone. Where the shirt had come undone from his trousers, she could see the pinkish gray of his intestines, partly glistening-wet, partly covered in dust, where they were hanging onto the sand. Suddenly the entire world was thrust into slow motion. Tess noticed every little detail without wanting to see it. The man on the ground was one of the South Africans. His face was as gray as his intestines. One arm was flung away from his body at a bizarre angle as if it didn’t belong to this body anymore. The legs were curled up and sideways. Now Tess saw the buffalo. He stood three meters away from the body on the ground, his head lowered. He snorted and glared into the beam of a flashlight that Tom was pointing at him. Tom stood at an angle to the buffalo. He had dropped his bag behind him. The huge beast shook his head in confusion at the bright light and turned to a huddled figure on the other side. Tess recognized the pilot who had flown in the South Africans. He was crouched on his knees, trying to get up. The buffalo started to turn towards his huddled body. Tess tried to squeak out a warning but stopped when she saw Tom weighing a large stone in his hand. He threw it at the buffalo’s hind quarters with all his strength, shouting in a deep, thunderous voice that Tess would never have recognized as Tom’s.

Without warning the buffalo swung around and lunged at Tom. Tess felt a stab of pain in her heart, and in her desperation threw her walking stick at the animal’s enormous head. She distinctly heard the light clatter of the stick on the buffalo’s horns, as he flicked it away. For a split second the animal turned his head, searching for this new attacker. Tess saw Tom dash to his left, taking cover behind a huge shrub. The buffalo thundered after him and his horns tore savagely at the shrub, flinging branches and leaves in all directions. Tom had landed on his side and swiftly rolled over and was now up on his feet and ducking away behind the next bush. It reminded Tess of a rabbit running in zigzag fashion from a fox. She found herself screaming at the beast in German, running forward to distract it from Tom, as he scuttled through the bushes.

“Stand clear, Tess!” She swung around and saw Jim aiming a rifle, ready to shoot. Instinctively, she ducked down and then she was deafened by a shot, immediately followed by a second one. Jim lowered his rifle and turned around. “Are you ok?”

“Yes, but the man … on the ground … is wounded. And … there’s another!” Tess noticed that she was shaking.

“Stay clear of the buffalo. He might not be dead yet.”

The other rangers arrived, and Jim filled them in them in a slow, steady voice. “We need the stretcher and the first aid kit. Clear the office table, put clean sheets on it, boil water. You know what to do.”

Tom called out, “Tess, are you ok?”

“I’m fine,” she said. Even though she’d never felt worse in her life.

Tom quickly scanned her from head to toe and hugged her tightly to him. She could feel his racing heartbeat through his shirt. “Go and check on your sister. We’ll handle this.” Then he walked over to the man lying in the sand. Tess stood frozen where she was. Tom bent down and lifted the man’s eyelids, shining his flashlight into them. The man groaned. Tom talked to him softly, but she could not hear the words. When he lifted the shirt, more gray intestines flopped out and began to slide down the man’s side. Tom caught them gently in his hand and held them.

“My bag!” He called out to Jim.

Jim ran up with the medical bag and opened it. “Scissors.” Tom said. Jim took out big scissors and cut the man’s shirt open. As the man’s belly was exposed, Tess gaped at the huge gash across his lower abdomen with the intestines bulging out, like uncooked sausage. Tom looked up briefly. “Give me a large triangular bandage.”

Tess ripped open a package and handed it to him. Tom covered the huge mass of intestines with the white calico square and fixed it with white hospital tape. The rangers arrived with the stretcher and they carefully lifted the man onto it and carried him away. The pilot who had been sitting on the ground, watching them in stupor, tried to get up, but sank back groaning. Tom and Jim supported him, one on each side and walked with him towards Jim’s office, following the others with the stretcher. Jim’s office was brightly lit and there was a flurry of activity. Eric was helping to spread a clean sheet on the table, others were bringing in huge bowls of hot water. Tom went to the sink to wash his hands.

“Go and see Andrea. Tess, there’s nothing here for you to do. Jim’s trained in first aid and I’ve got all the help I need.”

Tess looked around and saw the pilot slumped on a chair. His side was blood stained. The rangers were getting a mattress ready for him to lie on. Tom instructed them to take care of him while he was busy with the badly injured man. They removed the pilot’s shirt and Tess could see a nasty gash in his side. It was only a flesh wound, though probably very painful.

“Ok, I’ll see Andrea. If you need me …” She left knowing they would not call her as there were plenty of hands to help.

Walking over to Andrea’s bungalow with shaking legs she saw that the bar had reopened and guests were gathering there for drinks to quell their shock. Tess found Andrea sitting in bed. She told her sister what had happened.

“That fool. He was too drunk to see anything and most likely walked into that buffalo. Still, he’s paying a high price for his drinks.” Andrea shook her head.

“He almost made other people pay too,” Tess said. “I mean the pilot got hurt while trying to help him, one ranger told me. He’s got a big gash in his side and probably broken ribs. And Tom … ” Tess felt her heart beat faster at the thought of it, “Tom was attacked as well, when he distracted the buffalo. If Jim hadn’t been there to shoot the buffalo then …” She shuddered at the thought. “Should I get us some tea from the kitchen so soothe our nerves?”

When Eric returned, he found Tess and Andrea both under the sheets sipping their tea.

“That poor idiot. They shouldn’t allow them to get drunk in the bush. That was a close call.” He took a sip from the drink he’d brought along. “Tom says the man is in a fairly stable condition now, but he’ll fly them both out at first light.”

“Tom?” Tess felt a surge of heat going through her body.

“Well, yes. The pilot can’t fly with his broken ribs and the other man needs a hospital asap. There’s none else here who can fly.”

“By car it would take too long and the road is much too bumpy,” Andrea said.

Eric finished his drink and turned to Tess. “Tom said he’ll be over at your bungalow soon.”

“Yes, I’ll go over and see him. Well, have a good night, or what’s left of it and I’ll see you in the morning!”

Tess found Tom already packing his things. “Sorry my love,” He took her into his arms.

“Eric told me, that you’ll fly them out.” She looked up into his blue eyes.

He nodded and kissed her on the cheek. “Yes, they need a hospital. I’ll get ready to fly out just before dawn. I need to catch a couple of hours sleep now. I won’t come back from Harare. I’d have to fly to Mombasa the next day anyway, so it doesn’t make much sense, returning.” He kissed her tenderly but she noticed how exhausted he was and made him stop so he could sleep and get some rest.

Tess was disappointed but made an effort not to show it. They had already agreed, that she might stay on at the lodge or in Harare with Andrea, because Tom had to return to work on the third of January. She settled down to the idea of staying behind alone. Tess was amazed at how easily Tom could fall asleep after all what had happened, as if he had flipped a switch from ‘awake’ to ‘asleep’. She envied him a little, while she tried to banish the images of the man with the intestines coming out from under his shirt. Pictures of the glaring eyes of the buffalo, the moments of intense fear when he lunged at Tom, returned to her mind time and again, until she finally slipped into an uneasy sleep.

Suddenly she was awake again. Her heart was beating … but then she felt Tom’s firm lips on her own.

“I have to go now. Go back to sleep my love and I’ll see you soon, back in Mombasa. I love you!”

“Love you too,” she mumbled still heavy with sleep.

Tess stayed on for two more days with Eric and Andrea. They remained in the camp, relaxing, reading and sleeping. Tess walked down to the river a lot, taking photos of sun sets and bathing elephants. The South Africans and most other guests had left.

Late in the afternoon on January 4th, Tess was sitting at her favourite spot on the tree trunk at the river, watching the calm flow of the water. She heard the homely grunting of the bathing hippos, as they were slowly getting ready for their nightly grazing excursions on land. Ducks were flying to their roosts calling out to each other. The river was drenched in the golden-red glow she had come to love so much. She heard someone coming. It was Andrea. Her face was pale and set. Something’s wrong with Andrea. Tess scrutinized her sister as she came closer. When Andrea sat down next to her, Tess saw tears glistening in her eyes.

“Andrea, what’s the matter? What’s wrong?” Tess put an arm around her sister.

Andrea shook her head. Shuddering, she started to say, “Tess, this is so terrible, I can’t believe it … I don’t want to say … maybe it’s not true …” Andrea’s voice faltered. “This is like, with Mark … and …”

Tess unconsciously withdrew her arm as a sudden sickness spread in her centre. “What’s going on? Tell me, now!” Her own voice sounded strange.

Tears were flowing down Andrea’s cheeks. Her face was distorted in a silent cry. She hesitated one last time, then flung out the words, “Tom is dead!”

Tess felt something explode inside her. Her heart was beating frantically. Her body was suddenly ice cold and her legs went numb. She heard herself utter, “What? What did you say?” Her voice sounded so distant that it might have been someone else speaking.

Andrea’s shoulders were trembling with her sobs. “His plane crashed. This morning. They said he died instantly.”

Tess stared at her sister. “Tom is dead?” She repeated the words as if she had a problem understanding them. “No! This can’t be. There must be some mistake!” She saw the tears on Andrea’s face and did not feel her own, streaming down her cheeks.

“No mistake,” Andrea said. “The message came from his parents. They radioed Jim, and he told me.”

The sickness in her centre increased. She was falling now, falling, falling into a bottomless pit. She was waiting for the impact but it never came. Breathing was difficult, there was no air and there was no light. She got up and stood staring at the river. She saw the last golden rays of the setting sun. They should have been gray and dull but they were still golden. The grunting of the hippos still sounded peaceful and the water flowed on quietly. Nothing had changed. Only the world inside her had come to an end. 

Copyright© Kara Benson. All rights reserved.

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Kara Benson
By Kara Benson April 1, 2013 15:42
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