A necklace, a paperclip, some rather unwelcome fireworks

Breakfast. Our last cup of tea made with well water. It tastes as if chrysanthemums have died in it. But it’s not as bad as that fly.

The men looked after us well and seem sad we’re leaving early. But if it keeps on raining we’ll be stranded.

I’ve become kind of used to the waterlogged expanse of green, the lone fisherman, the bundles of shiny fish. But I won’t miss the wet tent, smelly blanket – or the flies.

Anthro-man’s ill, but has to drive. I’m not used to handling these conditions – and it’s no time to learn.

Part way across the floodplain the windscreen wiper drops off. On the driver’s side. It lands in the groove by the windscreen. We pray it stays there, negotiate a slow, wide turn and drive back.

Anthro-man unbends a paperclip, wiggles it through the wiper. I cut a length of leather from my necklace of wooden beads and tie it through the gaps. It works, for now.

The plain’s quite deeply flooded, the slow pace torture. Rigid with fear, I stare through the streaky windscreen, willing the wiper to stay in place.

The tracks on the other side have worsened overnight. We struggle to keep going forward, sliding on and off the good bits. At Marjorie’s hut we slow to a nervous halt.

Marjorie, our good luck charm,  jumps in, the villagers push us off.

Soon we’re approaching a dambo – a place that’s wet when everything else is dry. A causeway runs across it and a rudimentary ‘bridge’ spans the middle.

A stream’s running down the track we’re on.

Two little boys appear alongside us, shouting. We wave and ignore them.

‘Stop, please,’ says Marjorie.

I’m cross. It’s really bad timing. But she winds down the window, chats to the boys.

‘The bridge is broken,’ she says, ‘they will go ahead and show where you must not go.’

Sorry, Marjorie. Sorry, boys.

The youngsters wade in, stand either side of the ‘bridge’ and we see the great gap in the right hand side. Water pours over it like a cataract.

We inch along the causeway to the bridge. What’s left is barely as wide as the vehicle.

Our rear wheels start to leave us, going right, sliding over the edge, into the dambo.

How do we get out if we sink? Are there crocodiles? We’ll get Bilharzia  . . .

Our front wheels grasp at stones beneath the mud. The rear creeps back onto the causeway. The little boys run after us shouting and smiling.

‘Biscuits!’ I remember. ‘There’s one packet left.  Marjorie, can you tell them to share them?’

One boy grabs the packet through my open window and runs off, laughing at the other.

Boys.

It’s desolate now. We drive for hours, and hours seeing no people, no dwellings, just trees. And rain.

We stop once, on a patch of rocky ground, to pee. I manage to choose a spot by a poisonous plant. Great itchy welts appear on my thigh.

We’re nearing the place where Livingstone died when the torrent of water grows fierce. We’re taking it slowly because of the potholes – but then the vehicle slides to one side.

The water’s pushing us off the track. Anthro-man revs.  The wheels spin. He revs some more but we carry on sliding sideways. I hardly dare breathe.

I’m getting ready to jump ship when the front wheels catch.

We lurch forward. I breathe again.

Eventually we arrive, in daylight, to a room with a roof and a bed. We order an early meal. Stagger over to the dining room hoping we don’t have to make conversation.

‘I’m sorry,’ nice woman says, ‘it’s New Year’s Eve, everyone’s eating together, later.’

Much later.

So we sit, later, round the table and finally meet the bat man, face to face. There’s one other man at the table. He puts me in mind of Hugh Hefner. Says he’s slept with a thousand Zambian women. Yeah.

I have instincts about people. We listen, avoid conversation, eat.

Exhausted, we drag our weary bodies to bed and lie in silence, seeking sleepy oblivion.

That’s when the fireworks start.

Next time: an unusual visitor and a little miracle (and the last instalment of this little adventure)

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