Silent over Africa
The tour guide led the party of sightseers down one of the long, almost identical corridors. Some of them were more than a little bored, though one or two were able to keep the initial excitement they had felt when they realised they were to be shown over Britain's famous - and up until very recently - top secret spy-busting organisation. But the corridors all painted in institutional beige paint and interspersed with doors with blanked-out glass panels and numbers painted sombrely on, had mostly sapped their enthusiasm.
The guide, young, sprightly, her hair coaxed into a soft curl which framed an open and frank expression, tried to rally the troops. "M I 6's major focus now," she said cheerfully, "is counter terrorism but of course also includes serious crimes, illegal arms as well as - er - as well as counter terrorism of course."
Harry Johnson caught sight of himself in one of the doors, a youngish, twenty-something with sandy coloured hair, a sharp ferret face and glasses, who looked every inch a journalist and asked, "How much has your remit changed since September 2001?"
The guide looked enthusiastic. "Our work load's exploded; our intake is tripled and we are talking to our sister agencies all over the world."
Harry looked doubtful and his expression obviously indicated that he knew he wasn't really being answered. "We try to be as open as we can," said the guide. It sounded like, and probably was, an excuse.
He was about to continue probing but the appearance of two people hastening down one of the transverse corridors and using an ID card to open a pair of double doors at the other end, distracted him, especially as one looked familiar. "What's down there?" he asked.
There was a momentary hesitation then the answer came back, pat. "Oh - it's the canteen."
Some of the others in the group looked as doubtful as Harry felt. "You need an ID card to get into the canteen?" he asked.
The guide tried to make a joke of it. "It's a very good canteen. You have no idea how many unauthorised people try to take advantage of it," she said.
Just before the two men went through the doors, one looked back and, even though it was four years since he'd last seen him, immediately Harry recognised who it was.
He'd last seen Peter Spellman in the departure lounge at Nairobi airport, where they'd said an affectionate farewell to each other as Harry boarded the plane back to England. Of course 'affectionate' in Kenyan terms is relative. Homosexuality is frowned upon in that country, as it is in many African ones (and not only African) and their farewell consisted of shaking hands and perhaps holding on slightly too long than conventional necessity demanded, gazing into each other's eyes to convey volumes and swearing that they'd get together in London as soon as Peter could get leave.
Holiday romances! Huh. Harry hadn't heard from him since, but then he hadn't made much attempt himself to get into contact with Peter either but the holiday itself had been fun - as had the whole trip to Kenya, Mombassa, Nairobi, the Maasai Mara, Samburu, Ngoro Ngoro, Mount Kenya, Lake Nakuru - Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.
And the strange adventure with John Mbiki.
* * * * * *
It was a nine hour flight from Heath Row, stopping for some unknown reason - as no one appeared to get off or get on - at Frankfurt. Perhaps some freight was exchanged. It was the first long-haul flight I'd ever taken and I don't travel well so I wasn't feeling or looking my best when we eventually touched down at Nairobi Airport. Added to that, though I'd been told that Peter would meet me, I didn't know him and he didn't know me and, as I'm an unfailing pessimist I KNEW that he wouldn't be there and what would I do then?
But Peter was there. And somehow he recognised me. Perhaps my friend, Tony had described me, tall, worried-looking (well, I would be at that stage), sandy haired. thin-faced, wearing glasses. Anyway he came up to me, said 'Harry Johnson' in an enquiring sort of tone and , when I nodded, shook my hand.
He was as tall as me, tanned, with blondish, curly hair and wearing a yellow shirt and grey shorts. He looked rangy and fit and I felt weedy beside him.
"Well guessed," I said. "Am I so obvious?"
"Tony described you well," he said. "Tall, handsome in a bookish, academic sort of way. I recognised you immediately."
Good old Tony, I thought, always kind. I suppose I should explain about the Tony/Peter thing. Tony was my friend. He'd gone to Kenya, under a V.S.O. agreement and asked me to come out to spend a holiday with him in Kenya. I'd agreed, bought the tickets, made all the arrangements including letting my flat for the month to a couple who thought London in August would be fun when - everything collapsed. Tony's mother had suddenly been taken seriously ill. He'd had to come home and I was in a mess. But Tony had told me that this guy, Peter Spellman would look after me, at least for a fortnight. I could stay with him absolutely free, saving hotel costs and he'd be only too pleased to take me around to see the sights, game parks, a week in Mombassa by the sea, etc. etc.
And so it had been arranged and here I was, and so he was too and we climbed into his 4 by 4 and took off down the road from the airport to the capital, me looking around expecting to see lions, tigers, crocodiles and giraffe at every crossing - which of course I didn't.
"There is a Nairobi game park," he said, "but it's not all that exciting, and the black rhino's just died. You'll see much more when we go to Samburu."
I felt sorry for the black rhino, though I always thought that rhinos were sort of uniformly grey. "Was it a special favourite?" I asked.
"Not really, just endangered."
"And is it really black?" I asked.
"It's called that just to differentiate it from the white rhino, which is less rare."
"No," said Peter. "The British settlers got it wrong. They heard the Afrikaans word 'weit' which means wide, after the shape of the animal's mouth, and thought it was 'white'."
Traffic built up as we reached Nairobi. "Soon be there," said Peter and turned off from the main road making for the hills. I wasn't disappointed. Central Nairobi looked little different from any other cosmopolitan, urban capital, high rise buildings. office blocks and a six-lane highway. Peter drew up outside a single-storey bungalow with white walls and a red-tiled roof which wouldn't have looked out of place in Cheltenham or Tonbridge Wells. The only exotic aspect was a huge tree growing by the side covered with blue-violet blossoms. For some reason the word. 'jacaranda', came into my mind. I spoke it out loud.
Peter nodded. "They're everywhere," he said, and I felt a little crushed.
We climbed out and unloaded my luggage, two suitcases and a rucksack. I was surprised how cold it was. After all I knew we were only about one hundred miles south of the actual equator and yet it felt not unlike an end of autumn day in Britain.
"It's because we're so high up," said Peter. "If we were down at sea level in Mombassa, you'd feel the heat. Come on in. I'll get a fire going."
He opened the door and shouted, "Sam!" Then before anyone arrived he called again. "Where is the boy? Sam!"
I expected a young lad but there was a rush of footsteps in the hall and an elderly man appeared, his white hair contrasting against his black skin.
"Ah, there you are, Sam. Light the fire in the sitting room, will you - and fetch us some tea."
Sam bobbed - there was no other name for it - and disappeared into the back of the bungalow. I was surprised and rather embarrassed at Peter' attitude. It sounded as if he was treating Sam as a servant, which I suppose he was, but the fact that Sam was black and Peter white made it all the more awkward. But of course I was a stranger in the country and didn't know the ways.
In fact I guess what I was really thinking that Peter was a racist scumbag, and this impression wasn't lightened when I saw where Sam lived.
There were two bedrooms in the bungalow, Peter's and the one I was to have. "Where does Sam live?" I asked.
"Oh, he's got a house of his own, in the grounds - " he waved vaguely out of the back window "- with his wife of course."
That sounded OK but I saw the 'house' later, a square 'shed' made of brieze blocks with a corrugated iron roof. It must have been like machine gun fire when it rained. And some slits for windows.
The horror must have shown on my face for Peter said, "They have electricity and running water." He made it sound like luxury. "They're well off compared with some who live out in the veldt. He's a Kikuyu, you see."
I didn't 'see' at all. I didn't even quite understand what he meant though I knew that the Kikuyu are the largest tribe group in Kenya. Jomo Kenyatta, first President after Independence was Kikuyu, so is his successor, Daniel Arap Moi. Later I found out that there are at least forty-two distinct tribes in Kenya, some of which are divided into subgroups. Being one from the largest tribe, a Kikuyu might expect preferential treatment and the pick of the jobs.
But none of this I knew at the time. I was washed out after the long flight. I always thought that jet lag only resulted if you were flying east-west, or west-east but I'd just flown south and in fact the time in Nairobi was only two hours in advance of time at home. I hadn't slept though or not very well on the flight and I was exhausted.
"Do you mind if I just crash out?" I asked.
Peter nodded understandingly. "I hadn't planned anything for this evening," he said. "I'll show you some of the high spots tomorrow."
I went to bed and fell asleep immediately.
Peter was an excellent guide the following day. Copying him, I had dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and we went down into town after some toast and tea. All very British I thought. I had been preparing for something very foreign and exotic. Only the mango jam was an exception to my customary marmalade.
I decided soon after we set out that he wasn't racist in any way. There were no doubt accepted ways of referring to and treating employed servants. In fact Sam seemed to be on good terms, calling him Mr Peter and reminding him that today was Monday and Mr Price would be coming round for dinner that evening. Peter nodded but didn't explain.
Our first visit that morning was to 'the Stanley', that hotel/club relic of Victorian colonialism which is preserved as it was when built in 1902. Now, though, of course there are many black members though still quite a few white. Sometimes they mixed. Peter chatted to many, seeming to know practically everyone, introducing me though I forgot their names almost immediately. Kenyan waiters, dressed in white, drifted through, carrying trays of drinks and taking orders in a quiet tone, as they, and their predecessors must have done for nearly one hundred years.
We had drinks, even though it was early in the morning, and sat in comfortable chairs outside the room in a sort of open space surrounded by lots of the ubiquitous jacaranda trees. We chatted. Peter seemed a little reluctant to talk about his job. I'm not quite sure why - well, I wasn't then though later I understood. Apparently it was something to do with import/export, he said. Fruit, he mentioned, apples and plums. I was surprised as they didn't seem to be the sort of 'exotic' fruit which I'd associate with Africa and Africa nearly on the equator.
"We're so high up," he reminded me. "Almost a mile actually so it's quite cool most of the year."
"So having sex in Nairobi qualifies for the 'mile-high club'?" I joked.
"Hadn't thought of that," he said, perhaps out of kindness. Surely someone must have made that remark before. He gave me a sharp look and I wondered whether he was gay. Tony hadn't included that in his information. Had he told Peter that I was? Looking at him, as he drank from his beer, I decided that I rather fancied him. His hair was blond, curly and looked crisp. I wondered what it would feel like to run my fingers through him. His smile was very attractive. Like me he was wearing shorts and his legs were athletic and muscled. He moved with an easy, natural grace. I wondered whether he jogged or kept himself in shape at the gym, whether indeed Nairobi provided a gym.
But none of this high life was next on our list. We drove through Kibera, one of the slums of Nairobi.
"Before the beauty," said Peter, "Let's see the truth. You won't find it marked on any tourist map - or indeed on any map. It's a squatters' camp, illegal and put out of mind as far as the authorities are concerned - yet containing probably a third of Nairobi's population."
From a distance I saw the shacks made from bits of wood, quantities of corrugated iron, the occasional brieze block in the better built. I was reminded of Sam's 'house' and realised that, compared to the best of these, his was a palace. But it was the smell that made the real impression. A mixture of wood smoke, cooked fish, shit, both animal and human - the rich stench of thousands of people living in a gutter. A filthy brown stream trickled down the centre of the track. In it and jumping over it were small children playing as small children will always do. I shuddered to think what they were tramping through.
As we passed through them one small boy dressed only in a pair of ragged blue shorts, perhaps playing a Kenyan version of 'chicken' suddenly ran across in front of the Landrover, slipped on something unmentionable and fell. Immediately Peter braked, luckily without skidding but then we were hardly going fast, jumped out of the car and went over to the boy. He wasn't hurt, probably just scared and picked himself up. Peter made sure he was OK then looked around, asking something in Swahili. A taller, older boy stepped forward and I saw Peter slip him some money.
Then he came back and climbed in.
"Who was the other boy?" I asked.
"An older brother, or possibly a 'protector'. The younger kids usually have someone who looks after them."
"You gave him some money."
"Not much," said Peter. "You give them anything substantial and they'll get it taken off them by even older boys or adults. It's a dog eat dog world out there."
And there were dogs wandering about, snuffling in the filth, looking dispirited and emaciated.
I shuddered. "Don't the people have anything?" I asked. "Can't the authorities do something?"
"I told you," said Peter, sounding sad, "They don't want to know. The state does nothing here. It provides no water, no schools, no sanitation, no roads, no hospitals. And why should it bother anyway? As I said, this is an illegal squatters camp. They shouldn't be here. Kibera's water, what there is of it, is piped in by private dealers, who lay their own hose pipes in the mud, and charge double what people pay for the same service outside the slum. The security, if there is any, comes from vigilante groups - who, for a price, will track down thieves and debtors. Usually, the Nairobi police are too scared to come here. But if they do, they're just looking for bribes."
I didn't say anything.
"And as for the sanitation . . ." Peter gestured outside at the rubbish lying all around. "You see all those plastic bags. Well they're called flying toilets. At night, when it's too dangerous to leave your home, some people do their business in bags, and fling them out the door."
I was quiet as we drove out. The squalor of the slums had sickened me but then as we left Kibera, and turned off the main road onto a track, the red earth streaming out as dust behind us, the air fresh and vaguely foreign, though I couldn't identify exactly how, my mind cleared.
"How do they live?" I asked, acutely conscious of Peter's leg alongside mine as it moved from clutch to brake and back again. My skin looked anaemic against his. Occasionally our legs touched as we went round a corner and I would move mine sharply away and then wonder why I had done so.
"Some have jobs, paid a few shillings a week for menial work. Kids rummage through the rubbish dumps and find things to sell. Others beg in the city though strictly speaking that's against the law."
"Christ," I said and our legs touched, remaining close together until he needed to move his to brake.
"Tomorrow we'll go to the Rift Valley," he said.
I was about to ask but we'd arrived home. "Mrs Sam is preparing some 'real' Kenyan food for us," Peter said. "It's pretty stodgy but she'll like you to taste it."
"Sam's wife. She never says a word but I think she's fond of me and I wouldn't like to upset her. Whatever you think, do tell her that it's good."
The table was laid when we got in and we sat down, one at each end. Outside a black bird with a bright red eye sat on the branch of the jacaranda tree. Every so often it would take off and presumably scoop up some insects before returning to its perch.
"What's that bird?" I asked.
Peter looked and then said, without much interest. "A drongo. They're very common."
I laughed but he seemed to be serious.
"I always thought that a drongo was Australian slang for a very dumb person - moron, idiot, dimwit."
"Here it's a bird," said Peter. He seemed distracted and I was going to ask if anything was the matter when the door opened and a small, birdlike woman, wrinkled but spry came in carrying a large serving dish covered by one of those old-fashioned domed silver food warmers. She didn't say anything but smiled and put the plate down in front of Peter. Sam came in after her carrying six bottles of beer, open so I assumed they were all meant to be drunk.
"Thank you, Mrs Sam," said Peter. "I'll serve our guest. This is Mr Harry Johnson."
"I'm looking forward to trying real Kenyan food," I said.
The old woman bobbed to me in much the same way as Sam had earlier and they both went out.
Peter waited until they had gone back to the kitchen before lifting off the cover. Steam billowed out from a huge pile of what looked like pulses, lentils, beans etc.
"You'll find it a bit stodgy," said Peter, "but it's certainly filling. It's maize and - " he peered into the mixture " - nyama choma which means barbecued meat, probably goat though it could be anything. The beer's good though."
He handed me a plate piled high with the mixture and offered me a bottle. 'Tusker beer', I read with a picture of an elephant's head on the front.
It was indeed filling though it tasted good. Mrs Sam had a way with maize meal and had obviously added something to take away the blandness. The beer washed down the food and we'd made considerable inroads into the pile when the telephone rang. It was outside in the hall and I thought that that was where the phone had been in my grandmother's house, in the freezing cold in winter so that you didn't want to linger long and run up the charges. Nowadays you either had phones in the living room with extensions in the bedroom and kitchen or had your own personal mobile in your pocket.
Peter stopped eating and waited and the ringing stopped as Sam answered. Then he came in. "Mr Price on the phone," he announced.
Price? Price? I recognised the name and then remembered it had been the name of the person who was supposedly coming for dinner this evening. I doubted whether I'd personally want anything to eat later. The food had certainly filled me.
I could see Peter just across the hall, and heard him. "Peter here". He caught my eye and, surreptitiously, he pushed the door close. Well, OK, I thought. Business no doubt and private though it surely wouldn't have made any difference for me to hear.
I finished my beer and poured myself another glass. It wasn't a long call and Peter came in followed by Mrs Sam with mandari and chai (small sweet doughnuts and tea). "I'm sorry, Harry. I can't take you out this afternoon. I have to go into town. Business."
"No problem," I said. "Tell you what. Can you give me a lift and I'll do the tourist thing and just wander round the shops. I can walk back on my own or get a - what do you call it - a matatu."
"You watch those taxis," said Peter. "They're coffins on wheels."
Before we left I went to the kitchen where Mrs Sam was washing up. "Thank you," I said, "that was very good."
She smiled, looking pleased and again I was reminded of my grandmother, not the physical resemblance for they were completely different but Gran loved cooking for me. Every time I visited she would make a delicious treacle tart and was delighted when I ate most of it.
Walking by myself along the streets, I felt a surge of excitement. I enjoyed Peter's company as I could always rely on him to explain things, help me out but here I was alone in an exotic foreign country, surrounded by people of another colour who tended to stare at me so that I certainly felt a foreigner. I knew they had me for a tourist. For one thing I had a booklet in my hand with a map to which I had to refer from time to time. I also nervously felt my back pocket to make sure that my wallet and passport were still there. I'd been warned about muggers and pickpockets but surely in this metropolitan city with a branch of Marks and Spencer on the corner - I noticed it immediately - nothing could happen to me. I decided that I would make my way towards the park, Uhuru Park, I saw as a patch of green on my map and the name meant Independence, Freedom, mainly because quite a few others were heading in that direction.
It could have been any Municipal park in any Municipal city though there were more trees dotted around individually rather than in groups and no beds of lobelia and begonia. I smiled as I noticed a group of young children sitting on the grass around one of the trees. It looked as if they were having a picnic but when I got near it came as a shock that they had bags and aerosols from which they were sniffing. No one else seemed surprised but carried on towards an enclosure from which the sound of drumming came and around which there was already a sizeable crowd gathered. I stood on the outskirts and tried to peer over or past the broad shoulders of men or the large, well-proportioned figures of the women.
People filled in behind me and I stuck my hand in my back pocket to protect my wallet, hoping that anyone pressing against the back of my hand - or whatever sex - wouldn't misinterpret what I was doing. I still couldn't see anything and the throng was now becoming rather alarming. I was reminded of the pressure inside an underground train as more and more passengers forced their way into an already over full carriage. I hadn't realised that I suffered from any form of claustrophobia but now I began to feel a bit panicky. I tried to back out but there was what felt like a solid wall on all sides. Air seemed to be cut off and I gasped, wanting to fight my way out.
Suddenly the pressure behind me eased. I turned and saw a little Kenyan in a green uniform with what looked like a fly whisk hitting out at the people. Obediently they fell back, or drew aside though what room there was to right or left, I couldn't see. I myself stepped aside as someone on my left gave me room. The uniformed man, frowning terribly - was he a policeman, I wondered, looked at me as he passed, hitting out at those in front. It couldn't have hurt, the flails of the whisk looked like shredded grass, but everyone obeyed. A path appeared and I glimpsed some dancers on a patch of open ground cordoned off by a rope, legs thumping the ground in time to the drumbeat. Sweat ran down their faces as they pounded energetically.
The man in the green uniform indicated to me that I should go down the now free way to the dancing floor. I was aware of everyone's eyes on me. None looked sympathetic. Aghast, I said, "No. No. It's all right." Though I felt it was anything but.
"For tourists, sir," the man said. "Come forward to view."
I took a step forward and I swore I saw several onlookers clench their fists. If this guy was going to install me at the front and then leave, I didn't think much of my chances of emerging unscathed.
"Got to go," I muttered and several people laughed. The uniformed man - what was he? a Park attendant? - held out a box. "For the performers," he said.
"Of course," I said and stuffed some shillings in.
The crowd laughed and clapped though the uniformed man looked cross. Suddenly they were friendly around me. One man clapped me on the back. "You perhaps dance as well?" he asked.
"Afraid not," I said and backed out.
I didn't understand what I had done, how the crowd's mood had changed. Perhaps the box was for HIS welfare. I realised now that actually I had put very little into the box. Even 100 shillings is only about 75 pence and I had put in the equivalent of a few coppers. The man in authority had been insulted and the crowd approved, but I didn't stay around to find out.
Back in the main street, I went into a tourist shop to buy something. There were numerous wooden carvings. Some I rather liked, roughly carved old men sitting down with a piece of sacking round their shoulders and holding either a stick or one of the fly whisks in their hands. Their faces were wrinkled, their heads bald.
I pointed one out to an assistant. "Mzee figures," he said. "'Mzee' means respected elder." I picked one up and peered under the piece of hemp. Yes, he was fully equipped. I bought two and, behaving like a real tourist bought some picture postcards of animals that I hadn't yet seen but hoped I would, I decided my adventures for the afternoon were over and made my way home.
Peter, though, was not back and Sam said he had rung and wouldn't be home until late. "Business," said Sam vaguely. "Supper will be ready in a while."
Supper was actually heated up lunch. Having congratulated Mrs Sam on the food, she'd obviously decided that I really liked it and another helping would be just what I wanted. At a loss for anything to do after the meal and not really wanting another early night, I asked Sam where I could go to get a drink.
"There is beer here," he said.
"I'd like to go out."
"Lots of bars in Nairobi. Full of tourists," he said.
"What about a place that the tourists don't go to?" I asked.
Sam looked doubtful. "Of course there are places but not perhaps all that safe."
I must have looked disappointed for he suddenly said, "I'll take you, Mr Harry. I go out to local bar. With me you'll be safe. But not very exciting. You won't expect glamorous go-go girls."
I wouldn't have wanted 'glamorous go-go girls' of course (boys perhaps) but didn't want to explain that to him. "Just some local colour," I said, hoping I didn't sound patronising or indeed racist.
There isn't much dusk the nearer one gets to the equator and the street lamps were on as we set out, but soon we were clear of the 'respectable' suburbs and it seemed very dark on the track we took between native shacks - not a slum like Kibera but not far from it.
"We don't get many white faces here," said Sam, " - especially not in the evenings. It can get dangerous - please stick close to me."
We continued into the darkening maze. Rap music thumped out from a row of wooden shacks - two barbers shops, a carpenters, and one with a sign saying 'hotel' on the door.
We ducked under a clothes line and down a steep alley - barely three foot across. Five minutes later, we were sitting in a tiny, mud-walled bar with a hard mud bench all along the three walls that didn't contain the actual bar. It was full and though there were lights behind the bar they weren't very bright and sometimes flickered as did the television set. Behind the bar, a fading official portrait of President Daniel Arap Moi stared down. Conversation was loud and competed with the TV. The TV lost.
"I get the drinks," said Sam and dived into the throng around the bar reappearing soon afterwards - presumably he was a regular customer - with four opened bottles of Tusker, two of which he handed to me.
He pointed to a place on the seat and we sat down, wedged between black bodies and shining faces. But almost immediately he was grabbed by presumably a friend who chattered away to him excitedly in what I assumed was Kikuyu and dragged into a corner where they became deep in conversation.
I didn't mind. It was interesting there and I didn't really feel threatened. In fact no one seemed to take much notice of me apart from occasional glances. I drank from the bottle. Then I was aware of the man on my left, a perhaps 25 year old in a tracksuit and almost impossibly clean trainers. He was smiling at me and I smiled back.
"I'm John Mbiki," he said. "I thought we have a beer."
I showed him that I already had a bottle and a half, but he waved his hand dismissively. "Soon finish that," he said as he got up. "Don't let anyone else sit," he said pointing to the vacant space. I obediently spread myself so that I filled both spaces.
He wove his way through the crowd and I thought that he was probably a bit drunk. Soon though he returned with four more beers. I could see I was in for a session. I finished off my first bottle and took a swig from the second. I moved aside but I hadn't been able to keep space for two and when he sat down we were pushed close together, his thigh and leg against mine.
"What is your name?" he asked.
"Harry," he said. "That good name. I John Mbiki." I didn't remind him that he'd already told me that.
"Where you live?"
"London, England," I said. "I'm here on holiday."
"You are English, not American."
"Not American," I assured him.
"I would like to go to England," he said, almost wistfully. "But I have to stay here." Then he added, "I am not Kikuyu."
"I'm not Kikuyu either," I said, hoping that he would see it as a joke.
"I am Kimeru." It was said proudly like a boast and I realised, as if I hadn't already, that there were tribal tensions in this land which the original colonising powers had arbitrarily drawn lines around not caring about ancestral boundaries and ancient disputes.
I sensed he was looking at me and I wondered what to say. Perhaps I should have studied Kenyan tribes before coming out, but I didn't know the relative importance of the Kimeru or in fact which race they belonged to.
"We are the same," John said suddenly.
"Not quite," I said, the beer I'd drunk at supper and now here making me argumentative. "You are black, I am white. You are Kimeru, I am English."
"We are the same," he insisted. "We are both - men."
"That is true," I said.
He reached for my hand and put it into his lap. Within the cloth of his tracksuit I could feel his penis. I felt I had to make some gesture so I took hold of it and squeezed. "That is very true," I repeated. "You are certainly some man."
"And you also," he said and felt my crotch. My prick swelled. "Some man eh." He laughed, and I also. "We are the same." I held up the current bottle and clinked it gently against his. Then I drank.
The bar was not well lit but it was bright enough for people to notice, if they were interested, that we had our hands in each other's crotches so I gave his a farewell squeeze, noticing how hard he had got and took my hand away.
"You do not like the feel?" he asked, brown eyes looking into mine.
"Very much," I said, "but all the people." I gestured around.
"They are Kikuyu," he said scornfully. I didn't remind him that they also had cocks like us and they probably weren't blind.
"Where have you been on holiday?" he asked.
"Only to Nairobi," I said. "I only arrived yesterday. Tomorrow though we are going to Nakuru to see the Rift valley and then the Samburu Game Reserve and next week to Mombassa."
He nodded. "So you will not be long in Nairobi."
"I'll be staying here in between visits," I said.
"Perhaps we can meet."
"I'd like that, John," I said. The beer had percolated through and I wanted a piss. "I have to go and piss," I said. "Where is the place?" There didn't seem to be any doors with 'Gents' printed on them.
He laughed. "I show you. Come." He took my hand and we walked out together. Sam was still in earnest conversation with his friend and didn't notice us as we left hand in hand. Nor, it seemed. did anyone find it peculiar.
Outside the air was clear and cool. There were stars overhead and a half moon. We went round the side of the building. "Here we piss," said John. He had already got out his cock and was aiming it at the wall of the bar. I could hear the liquid hiss into the grass.
I got out mine and accompanied him. As the stream tapered off, I felt his hand grasp my cock. It hardened. "Yes, you man, OK," said John.
Not to be outdone I found his and clutched it, squeezing as it thickened. I rubbed it and soon it was stiff and erect. I felt the old urge and rubbed him faster. I would have liked to have gone down on him but wasn't sure how safe we were. I heard him groan but then his free hand stopped me.
"No," he said. "I do not wish to waste my manhood on the ground."
I had no such compunctions but already he had stopped rubbing me.
"I want it to go into you. Mine into you. That is how it should be. But not here. Here is Kikuyu." He spat on the ground, ground where presumably much Kikuyu piss - and no doubt other things - had fallen.
In a way I felt honoured. To him my body was special, something worthy to receive his semen - and presumably vice versa. Of course I didn't then really think of the implications. Presumably a condom would not be appropriate, just another way to 'waste his manhood' so one entry point was out. I knew that blow jobs were relatively safe, as long as there were no cuts inside the mouth. But anyway nothing was apparently going to happen now. I could hardly take him back to Peter' house without asking first, and what to say to Sam? And I certainly wasn't going off into the jungle or whatever the countryside was like round here with someone I had only just met.
"Where is your house?" I asked, greatly daring.
"My wife would not like," he said.
"You're married." So adultery would be involved though to be honest I didn't have much of a problem with that.
"With three children," he said proudly. "Three boys."
"If I check with my friend I'm staying with," I said. "You could come to me."
"You give me your address."
I felt in my pocket and found the postcards I had bought that afternoon. I took one and wrote 'Harry' and Peter's address. Luckily I always carried a pen with me. Comes from being a journalist, I guess. I handed it over, a picture of two elephants with Mount Kenya rising blue and pale in the background and the legend Amboseli Game Park.
Together we went back into the bar. The beer bottles we had left had disappeared even though they had been still full. Sam came up to me, a worried frown clearing as he saw I was all right. He ignored John Mbiki or perhaps didn't realise we were together.
"Time to go," said Sam, and made for the door.
I turned to John and held out my hand.
"Kikuyu," he said, staring at Sam's departing back. "I will write."
Peter was home when we got back but he didn't explain why it had taken so long to discuss the problems of plums and apples. But then I didn't mention my little adventure with John Mbiki.
The following morning we were off to the Great Rift Valley. I'd looked it up in the guide book but I needn't have bothered. Peter, as always, was a treasure chest of information.
About twenty million years ago, Africa had been split by great subterranean forces. The result was that the land was torn apart leaving The Great Rift Valley, which separates the grass plains of East Africa from the tropical rain forests of western central Africa. This fault line - some three and a half thousand miles long - cuts a huge gash north to south from the Red Sea through Ethiopia. Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.
Lakes of every size were formed and some are very large and deep such as Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana, while in Kenya they tend to be a necklace of small shallow soda lakes like Lake Nakuru, Lake Natron and Lake Bogoria. Thousands of candy-floss pink flamingos and snowy pelicans are attracted to these alkaline waters to feed on algae and tiny crustaceans. The movement of the land is still going on and eventually Africa will be split apart by a sea which will continue south from the Red Sea.
Marcus's Landrover climbed higher and higher up the eastern slopes of the Aberdare Mountains until we reached Nakuru. Here the Rift Valley is at its narrowest (about 30 miles) and we stopped on a flat escarpment with tussocks of grasses and scattered bushes overlooking the spectacularly deep drop onto the plains below. Herds of wildebeest, zebra, antelope, giraffe, elephant and big cats were down there though it was so far down that we could make out none of them.
I tried to imagine what it would look like filled with water, another sea dividing east from west africa. Surely Africa was divided enough. I thought of Mbiki's hatred of the Kikuyu and, knowing that Kenya itself was such a mixture of different tribes wondered at the possible divisions. Both Marcus and I were quiet, thinking no doubt different thoughts, different preoccupations. Was he really so concerned with plums and apples?
From behind us came the sound of the bleating of goats and shrill shouts. A young boy with a herd of animals appeared. Seeing us he stopped. Though tall and slim, he couldn't have been much more than eight or nine years old perhaps little more than the boy Peter had pulled from the sewer in Kibera. But what a difference in circumstances and responsibility.
"Maasai," said Peter. He raised his hand and said, "Jambo."
"Shikamu, mzee." I smiled to think of Peter as an 'elder' but I suppose to the boy he was. Perhaps though it was respect rather than the age.
"What is your name?" asked Peter.
"Kakuta," said the boy.
"I am Peter and this is Harry."
I'd read about the Maasai, another Kenyan tribe but not confined to Kenya as they are a nomadic, pastoral tribe who take their flocks wherever there is grass, paying no attention to national borders. As soon as they reach puberty, the boys go off in a group together, dressed in their bright red cloaks to do their traditional jumping dances, leaping high into the air almost as if they were on an invisible trampoline, and staying together until they make their traditional animal kill and return to their tribe as men.
The boy spoke some English and I almost envied him in his cultural ways, unchanging, planned - though living mainly on a mixture of milk and animal blood sounded a little gross. Again another tribe, different customs. Were their tensions here as well? Or did the Maasai keep themselves apart?
"Soon you will be a man with a herd of cows of your own," said Peter, more of a question than a statement.
The boy smiled, showing white teeth. "I will be a pilot," he said. "And fly a plane." He pointed to the sky then held out both his arms and ran in a circle, making a roaring sound, the goats observing him with calm disbelief. So much for my thoughts of romantic idyll.
We left him there with his goats, dreaming his dreams. I wondered whether he would ever fulfil his ambition. Perhaps he stood more chance than the boy in Kibera.
We returned via Nanyuki. Just south of the town, there are some curio shops and a notice by the side of the road announcing the Equator. Of course we had to have a photograph taken and we found an American tourist who was happy to take one with both of us under the sign. Peter put his arm round my shoulders and I felt he warmth of his body down my side. Then he took one of me with one foot in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern. It didn't feel like my idea of the equator. The weather was chilly and there was an intermittent drizzle of cold rain.
As Peter had driven the whole way out, I offered to do my stint on the way back. I'd never driven a 4 by 4 before and the road was often little more than a rutted track through, now that the rain had stopped, red earth which threw up two plumes of dust behind us. From time to time he'd just lay his hand on top of mine and gently guide it to turn the wheel into the best route across the ruts. The touch of his hand was warm and dry and I did not feel patronised, just excited by his touch. After a while when he hadn't corrected my driving, I glanced at him and saw that he was asleep, his head resting against the window. He looked very peaceful and indeed rather vulnerable, his eyelashes were longer than I'd realised, the skin around his mouth relaxed though the jaw line remained firm. His hair had been darkened and flattened by the drizzle. For a moment I wanted to lean over and kiss him on the lips but I resisted the urge. For one thing, I didn't know what his reaction would be, for another, I'd have probably run the Landrover off the road. Instead I just patted him on his bare leg and gently stroked his thigh up to where it disappeared beneath those shorts. He didn't stir.
But I took it as a compliment that he had enough confidence in me that he could sleep while I drove.
He woke when we were still some twenty kilometres outside Nairobi and insisted on driving the final part.
"Kenyan drivers are mad," he said. "And those who drive through the city are completely psychotic. Anyway it's getting dark."
Sam was waiting at the door when we got arrived. "Mr Peter, sir," I heard him say as I got my rucksack from the back of the car. "Mr Price has been ringing all day."
"I told him I'd be away for the day," said Peter. "What's the matter with the guy?"
"I think it's something to do with the Minister," said Sam. "He's off on some secret mission. Not been announced to the press."
"I'll get Rafiki to see if he can find out what's happening."
For a moment they seemed to have forgotten about me but then Sam glanced at me as I followed Peter in and they stopped talking.
"Get washed up," said Peter to me. "I expect the food will be ready in a little while, eh Sam?"
Sam nodded and I went to my room to shower and change. I expected Peter to follow but I heard him on the phone, talking low but his voice carried. "I'll put Rafiki on it. He'll find out if anybody can." There was a pause then. "Safe enough. He works for the Ministry after all." Another pause, then. "Terrorism? Not a chance. Not a whisper here." And then I heard a name which, at the time, made no connection at all yet later was to be known all over the world. "Bin Laden. Who's he?" It seemed that Peter hadn't either. "Some Saudi millionaire? Well what would one of those be doing getting mixed up with terrorist activities?" Anyway Rafiki will find out if there's anything going on. And by the way I'm off to Samburu for the week starting tomorrow so I'll get Rafiki to report direct to you." He rang off.
I wondered what on earth Peter was doing getting involved with Ministries and possibilities of terrorism. It didn't seem much to do with plums and apples, exporting of fruit but of course it was nothing to do with me so I said nothing over the meal.
Instead we discussed the trip to the Game Reserve.
This was one part of the holiday which was going to cost me; the game reserve accommodation is really expensive but I'd saved up and there was no point in skimping. I wanted to see some really wild animals - apart from the drongo and a few goats which were all I'd seen so far.
Before we ate though, Peter was on the telephone again - to this Rafiki, I supposed, the one who was going to find out whatever the mysterious Mr Price wanted. The door to the hall was firmly shut so I couldn't hear anything until Sam arrived carrying the food and I heard Peter say "I doubt if it's anything important but do your best - and of course take care." There was a pause then, "I'll be away for a week so there's no point in reporting to me." Another pause then, "I'll be in touch."
There was a fire burning in the grate. Certainly it had felt quite cold outside. I'd noticed it before but the furniture in the bungalow was old-fashioned, almost Victorian in its dark colour and heavy appearance. There was nothing remotely 'African', not even any of the wooden carvings I'd seen and bought in the Nairobi tourist shop. The sofa was dull coloured and the big table had heavy turned legs.
Peter came in and we sat down. I thought he looked a little drawn, a frown on his forehead, two lines either side of his nose. It made him look vulnerable.
"We'll start early tomorrow, if that's all right with you," said Peter. "The reserve is just over two hundred miles from here. There are some good parts of the road but much of it is the usual red clay track. We'll be lucky if we make it in four hours."
I felt quite excited, a vague repetition of the feeling of how I'd felt as a child on the eve of Christmas. "I'm really looking forward to it. What animals shall we see?" This of course was what I'd come to Africa for, what all tourists come to Africa for.
Peter laughed. "I can't promise anything for certain," he said, "but there's a good chance of giraffe, cheetahs, leopards, ostrich, and almost certainly elephant, crocodiles, lions, zebra, lots of gazelle and wildebeest. They send game wardens out at night and note where a kill has been made, then they'll take us to it in the morning. You'll see enough, I guarantee."
Towards the end of the meal, more of the Kenyan stodge though the meat was different - I didn't ask what it was, he said, "It's early yet. Do you want to go into Nairobi. There are some night-clubs that they say are worth visiting, loud and noisy, I expect."
"Don't you know?" I asked. "Haven't you been there yourself?"
"They're not really my sort of place."
I took a breath and asked, "Any of them gay?" I looked down at my fork which was negotiating a rather tricky piece of rhino? zebra? waiting for some sort of explosion, Disgust? Outrage?
But there was no sound. Had he had a heart attack? I looked up. He was smiling.
"You knew," I said. "You knew all along."
"Well, not at the start," he said. "Tony hadn't briefed me on that, but when you put your hand on my leg and started stroking, then I think I knew."
"You weren't asleep." I said in a slightly accusing tone.
"I was until you did that," he said, but he was still smiling.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I wondered how far you'd go. But you stopped." He paused then added, "I was disappointed."
If that wasn't an invitation, I didn't know what was and I was about to take advantage of it when Sam appeared to clear the dishes and bring in some rhubarb pie - not one of my favourites but again typical of the old-fashioned nature of so much of Kenyan life, well, white Kenyan life.
But after he left, there was an embarrassment left, a sort of self-consciousness as if neither of us wanted to make the first move. I looked at him, at his thick, wavy blond hair, wide, generous mouth, dark eyebrows, the left one raised slightly It gave him a quizzical look so that I knew he probably saw most things which the rest of us take so seriously, life, love, were a universal mischief and could be treated with equal lack of seriousness.
"I went to one of Nairobi's night clubs once," he said. "It is quite an experience but not one that I liked much. The clubs are one of East Africa's hottest tourist spots, and most 'dangerous' in terms of getting around the city. Take a cab or run the gauntlet of being mugged or stabbed as a rule.
"The most notorious night clubs "Club Simba" and "Nairobi 2000" are among the most 'aggressive' and 'risky' I've been to. Where the "law of the jungle" literally prevails. Kenyan girls will eye you hungrily up and down, grab at you and fight you to a seat beside them. Some will even grab you by the balls and fix you with a stare that says, "Dare you resist?" Attacks are frequent, if only among the girls themselves literally fighting for their income against Nairobi's grinding rural poverty. These girls will do anything, anything to get a 'Muzungo' (White man)."
"What do you do if you're gay?" I asked.
"Be very careful. It's dangerous, very dangerous to go out looking for it, not only from muggers and others but also from the law. Kenyan gaols are not pleasant places. You can pick up tourists but native Kenyans - well, you have to know them very well before you can make a move."
I thought back to my experience with John Mbiki. Of course he had been drunk, and also a family man with children. I thought I'd been lucky though, and rather foolish. I didn't expect I'd get any response from the address I'd left him. even though he'd asked for it. I wondered again whether to tell Peter of my 'adventure' but in the event I didn't, mainly because Peter moved from the table to the sofa at the side of the room. He patted the seat next to him and I moved over to sit beside him.
I put down my plate with its unfinished pie, went over and put my arm around him, hoping it wasn't the wrong thing to do. He sighed and leaned against me. Since he didn't object, I just held him, breathing in the clean smell of him after his shower and occasionally stroking his hair. My hand slipped up Peter' chest, feeling the beat of his heart thudding under my fingers. I felt my own pulse quicken and I saw he had an erection in his shorts, the material pushed out enticingly. My own was apparent too.
The room was quiet, the fire nothing but some red coals in the grate. Outside the sky was dark.
Peter put his arm around my shoulder, pulling my head over against his. It was such a secure feeling holding and being held by this nice guy. He turned toward me. For a moment it was awkward, and then we reached for each other, hugged, and our mouths came together. It was very chaste at first, lips against lips. Then I touched my tongue to his lips, and they opened for me. Soon, we were in the midst of a hungry exploration. I laid my hand in his lap and he opened his legs so that I could feel his penis, hard and thrusting. I wanted to take it out but Peter stopped me. "Mrs Sam will be in to clear the table," he said, but he didn't stop me holding and rubbing him through the material, nor did he stop the kiss.
Sure enough we could hear the soft slap of footsteps along the hall and we drew apart, both adjusting ourselves so that it wasn't so obvious that we were both aroused. Peter reached back to switch on a lamp standing on the table behind us. We smiled as Mrs Sam came in. I hoped I didn't look like I felt, a naughty schoolboy caught in the midst of doing something forbidden.
She began to put the plates on a tray and frowned when she saw that I hadn't finished my rhubarb. "It was beautiful," I said. "I was just too full."
She was about to go out. "We won't want anything more tonight," said Peter. "We're off very early in the morning so we're getting an early night."
Mrs Sam bobbed and nodded her head. She looked knowingly st the pair of us and I wondered whether she knew more than she professed.
"Shall we do just that?" asked Peter. "Your bed or mine?"
"The nearest," I said, which happened to be his.
There, Peter turned me towards him and kissed me, a long, lingering kiss which rapidly became passionate. Suddenly we were tearing the clothes off each other. Almost immediately we were naked and rolling together on the bed, pulling each other's bodies together as if we wanted to get inside each other, which was exactly what we wanted to do.
I grabbed hold of Peter's prick, feeling its hardness, kissing it and licking. "I want that inside me," I said. "Now."
I heard Peter rummage around in his rucksack and produce a jar. I lifted my legs and exposed my hole to whatever Peter would give me. I felt the coldness of jell on my back. a finger stroke me between my buttocks, find my hole and penetrate me; I gasped, from the coldness, from the alienness of that finger but couldn't tell if it was from strangeness or pleasure. Peter worked his finger inside me stroking the inside of me, as he probed deeper and deeper.
Peter put his free hand to my cheek, moved his body over mine and gave me a kiss, our tongue probing and exploring the inside of my mouth.
Then he withdrew and asked, "You all right, lover?"
I whispered, "Fuck me, Peter. Fuck me." And sighed as I felt the finger leaving. There seemed to be an emptiness inside me once the finger had gone. But not for long as I felt the smooth head of Peter's condom-covered cock pressed against my receptive arsehole.
It pressed against some opposition, trying to enter but some instinct made me tense. "Relax, lover," whispered Peter, peering down on me, stroking my face, my body, then down to my cock, holding it and stroking so that it grew large in Peter's hand. I opened my mouth, gasping, trying to relax those muscles, and then I felt it go in, and I jumped, tears starting from my eyes. I didn't want to cry out, as I felt Peter behind thrust into me, his prick, halfway in, then sliding all the way so that it seemed part of me. For a moment Peter rested then began a slow rhythmic fuck.
I could hear the slap slapping of Peter's thighs bouncing on my buttocks as he fucked me, and the sounds of excited breathing, I wasn't sure, it might have been my own. I could see the sweat breaking on Peter's brow, and hear Peter's irregular breathing, and feel the movement of Peter's hand on my straining erection. Peter's action speeded up, pulling out almost completely and then grinding in as far as it could go. It touched something right up inside my body, some core of my being that I'd never felt before, that spread a frenzy of pleasure through my whole lower body and suddenly I knew I was about to come. The muscle in my arse spasmed as I came, clenched and unclenched as each jet of cum was forced out of me, spattering high up my body. Peter stopped, his cock buried deep in my ass, and I could feel the pulsing of Peter's cock as he came and came again. Peter cried out a harsh sound, no word, just a cry of animal passion then collapsed on top of me, a dead weight, between my legs. his breath gasping into my face, his mouth searching for mine to kiss.
Two hours later, a time we filled with tender words and laughter, we had another bout of rapturous, energetic sex.
"I'll never get up in the morning," groaned Peter after we had come again.
I held his cock, limp at the moment. "I expect you'll do your best," I said.
The next morning started off a week which I look back on as one of the most wonderful of my life so far. Though I never referred to it as such it was almost like a honeymoon, my relationship with Peter being most intense allied to the excitement of Africa in the wild.
That week the days merged imperceptibly with each other so that Monday, Tuesday etc became indistinguishable though the day I escaped the crocodile, the night the pride killed a zebra and the day Peter we nearly got charged by an elephant stood out clearly enough. And of course 'the day it all finally ended'. And every night - and sometimes in the day too - there was sheer unadulterated, uninhibited, unrivalled sex. Oh yes.
The rugged landscape of the Samburu Game Reserve - mostly grassland with acacia trees dotted around through which the mud-red Uaso Nyiro river runs with a backcloth of mountains - is the habitat of a variety of species of birds and animals. The lodge itself though is not very different from any five-star hotel - if you discount the thatched roofs and the fact that outside there are roaming wild animals both killing and being killed.
We had a double room with twin beds - not that that made any difference as we only used one, changing on alternate nights. A small boy - who obviously knew what was what - used to rouse us in the morning with a discreet knock, bearing a pot of tea on a tray.
On the first morning, I shot out of bed and jumped into my own but on other days after he had caught us when we were too satiated to rouse ourselves, his eyes sparkled and he always gave us a huge smile and a summary of the game news, 'zebra killed by the lions if you want to go look, sirs,' or 'many giraffe feeding from acacia trees to the south east if you want to get up, sirs'. That knowing smile told all but he seemed to like us and the tip we gave him was enormous so no doubt that helped. He told us his name was Sangalai, a Samburu warrior.
The food was five star as well, nothing like Mrs Sam's stodgy offering of Githeri her stew of beans and corn, or Ugali the stiff maize meal. We lived like kings by day and rogered each other like sex maniacs at night.
One morning our little attendant and informant, Sangalai, tells us the lions have killed overnight and we are up, showered, breakfasted and off, following the Game Reserve people carrier. We could have gone with them but we were selfish, or I was at least, and I wanted Peter all to myself. Perhaps I knew then that I only had one week of his company, of his love.
The pride were lying in the shade of some bushes. The male, magnificently maned and obviously satisfied with his share though in all probability it was the females who had done the actual killing, licked at his bloodied chop. The lionesses were eating, an individual occasionally growling when another would perhaps encroach on an area of meat which she had marked for her own. Several cubs were active, two having a tug of war over a bone they had managed to filch from the adults. Another had its own scrap which it was guarding jealously and when it thought it was unobserved, licking and nibbling the raw meat. There was little left of the prey though some pieces of skin still showed the black and white stripes of the zebra. There would be little left for the hyenas and vultures to squabble over.
We watched and took pictures, the lions paying absolutely no notice of us, different perhaps if we had got out of the vehicles. I took some pictures of Peter too, close-ups, when I was pretending to take the lions through his window. I have them now, his head slightly turned away, the jaw line firm and angled, his lips, on my side at least, turned up in a smile under the flat planes of his cheeks. His eye is slightly closed against the sunlight and his eyebrow is thick and dark. His hair tumbles, blond and curly over his forehead.
"What a sight," I heard Peter say and I agreed though I don't think we were talking about the same thing.
A while later zebra started to walk past. They didn't seem to be nervous, presumably sensing that the lions had killed, were no longer hungry and, for a while at least, they were in no danger.
On the way back to the Lodge, we saw giraffe, reticulated giraffe, Peter informed me, though what difference that made, I didn't know. Three of them were gathered around a group of acacia trees, their incredibly mobile lips pulling off the the leaves from the top and avoiding the fearsome thorns which deter other grazing animals from eating them. Something must have startled them, though in fact, few animals attack them unless they are young or sick, and the bounded off with that curious, almost lopsided gait which seems ungainly but in fact results in their achieving a considerable speed.
Another day we looked for elephants. Theoretically and, according to Sangalai, they should be easily available but so far we had not found any. Then, going out, not in search for anything in particular and in fact following some ostrich scampering across the grassland, we saw a large elephant standing just to the side of the track. Peter stopped the Landrover and we watched the huge, docile-looking animal who stared equally passively at us. Perhaps it was foolhardy, we;;, obviously, as later events proved, it was foolhardy, I opened the car door and stepped out, so that I could take a better view. Suddenly the elephant gave of an enormous trumpet and its ears flared out on either side of its head.
"Get in the car," said Peter.
I scrambled in and he backed along the track.
"What started that off?" I asked. "Was it me?"
"Not really, except that you got between her and that." He pointed to the other side of the track where I saw a small grey shape, a baby elephant. It didn't look the slightest bit alarmed, but mother obviously was.
"Never get between mother and child," said Peter.
We withdrew to what we considered a safe distance and watched. The mother gave us a baleful look but then seemed to assume that we were no longer a threat and walked over to where her calf stood. We saw her caress it with her trunk like an anxious mother testing her offspring for minor ailments and the baby put up its little trunk and felt its mother. A tender, touching scene though moments before it had been anything but and I realised then that, despite the effete luxury of the Lodge, we really were in the wild and there were wild animals out here which one took for granted at our peril.
I think it was that evening that we were sitting outside after dinner in that short period which we call dusk. There were lanterns lit on the terrace and we were at the extreme edge where a low wall, no more than a foot high, though on the other side was a bit of a drop, divided us from the bank of the river.
We sipped our beers and I wondered whether it was too early to go to bed and whether I'd appear any more of a slut than I already was, if I suggested it. My hand was trailing over the other side of that little wall.
"This has been the most wonderful week of my life," I said. Well, it was romantic, us sitting in the dusk with little lanterns strung from the roof, me and my lover in exotic Africa. There were a few other people sitting around tables but they were on the other side.
"It's been good for me too," said Peter.
There was a rustling sound from the other side of the wall and I looked over. For a moment I couldn't see anything and then something in the darkness moved, something immensely long and scaly, something with teeth. I jumped up with, I must admit, a rather falsetto shriek which attracted the attention of everyone on the terrace.
They came rushing over and peered into the darkness. A waiter brought a torch and its beam picked out an enormous crocodile, must have been at least fifteen feet long. The waiter explained that they threw left over food into that place to attract crocodiles from the river. He assured me I'd been absolutely safe. There was no way the reptile would have been able to scale the five feet to where we were sitting, but I thought of where my hand had been trailing and those grim white teeth. The croc is the closest surviving descendant of the dinosaurs (if you discount birds) and its bite could have had my hand off no trouble at all.
"Take me to bed," I said to Peter and didn't care who heard me.
And so the days and nights passed - none quite as eventful as the one with the elephant mother and the crocodile, but we ticked off our list of animals we had seen, Beisa Oryx, the Gerenuk (a Gazelle that stands up on its hind legs), Grevy's Zebra, the blue-flushed Somali Ostrich, the Cape buffalo which is supposed to be the most dangerous animal on the plain - though I'd have stood up to a whole herd of them rather than one of those crocs.
And in the river we saw hippos, or at least the eyes, nostrils and ears of hippos as they dozed almost underwater. We even came across some rhino though they were in the distance and even Peter couldn't tell whether they were of the black or 'white' variety, the beautifully marked Kiduki and the tiny Dik-Dik. We heard a leopard prowling round the Lodge one night with its 'coughing' call, though, to be honest, at the time we were locked in sexual copulation and didn't even get up to have a look.
So the end of that perfect week approached and on the last day, little Sangalai brought us tea and little doughnuts and we made him sit on the bed with us an fed him the sweet cakes and he seemed genuinely sorry that we were leaving.
Eventually though we got up and I dressed.
The phone in the room rang and I answered it, not that it was likely to be for me, but Peter was in the shower. The man at reception said, "There's a Mr Kiunjuri from Nairobi for Mr Spellman." The line crackled and someone came on. "Mr Peter, sir, it's Sam here. The police have been round."
Obviously this was not for me. "Hold on, Sam," I said. "I'll get Peter. He's in the shower."
There was a stunned silence from the other end.
"Peter," I called above the noise of the water. "Sam's on the phone. Something about the police."
Instantly the water was turned off and Peter emerged, naked and dripping. He grabbed the receiver. "Sam, Peter here. What's happened?"
I went to the bathroom and got him a towel, rubbing him dry as he spoke.
"When did they come?" Peter asked. A pause. "Are they still there?" Another pause. He sounded worried. "But how did they find out my address?" "What do you mean a postcard? Found on Rafiki when they searched him?"
Sam obviously said something and Peter flicked a glance at me, his eyebrows in a worried frown. I didn't know what was going on, of course, couldn't understand why the police should be interested in the doings of a fruit exporter. Remembering back to the other telephone conversation I had overheard, I was thinking of the Ministry of Agriculture. Some minor infringement of pest control spraying perhaps. I was more interested in the part of Peter' body I was drying at the moment. I had reached his groin and carefully lifted his balls to dry beneath, then his cock. But his next remark brought me up short.
"You say it was just addressed to 'Harry' at my address."
Now that did strike a chord as that was what I had written on the card I had given to John Mbiki. Who 'Rafiki' was I had no idea but this was surely too much of a coincidence.
"What's the matter?" I asked after he had rung off.
"I'm sorry, Harry, I don't know that there's a lot I can tell you, but I'll do what I can. As you no doubt realised the Kenyan police made a call at the house in Nairobi looking for a 'Harry'. They'd got the name from an addressed card they found when they arrested a man whom they thought was behaving suspiciously at the Ministry."
"John Mbiki," I said.
"So you do know him?"
"Well, I wouldn't say I 'know' him. I met him once and we - er - we sort of played around and he asked for my address so that we might be able to get in touch again."
Unfortunately," said Peter, "he's the guy we used to see what was happening at the Ministry - and he got caught. It was extremely foolish of him to carry that card around with him."
I heard you on the phone to Mr Price," I said. "You said you'd get someone called 'Rafiki' or Rakifi' to nose around. Not Mbiki."
"'Rafiki' is Swahili for 'friend' it's his code name."
Code name? It didn't make any sense at all to me, didn't fit in with dealings in fresh fruit. "But. . . " I said.
"I'm afraid you'll have to leave. The police will come round again. If they see your passport and see you're Harry Johnson, they'll take you in, and believe me, you won't like the insides of a Kenyan gaol - not even for a couple of days."
"But my return flight isn't until next week," I said. All this talk of police and arrests was giving me the willys.
"I'll get you on a plane today," said Peter. "No problem with that. Just better you don't go back to the house."
This made even less sense. How could an exporter of fruit have enough influence to change my booking and, as it later turned out, to get me a first class seat in a plane straight to Heath Row?
But that's what happened.
On August 7th 1998 we drove to Nairobi airport straight from Samburu. Peter had made various phone calls, including one to the mysterious 'Mr Price' and everything had been arranged.
We said goodbye and vowed we'd keep in touch but of course we didn't.
When I arrived home after a nine hour flight, the news was all about the bombing in Nairobi that had happened earlier that day. It was the first time in modern African history that terrorists had taken their bombing campaign to sub-Saharan Africa. According to the State Department and U.S. intelligence, those suspected of setting up the bombs that simultaneously destroyed the U.S. embassies in both Kenya and Tanzania were associated with militant exiled Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden. The bomb that rocked the U.S. embassy in Nairobi also destroyed the Cooperative Bank of Kenya, the Extelecom, and other buildings adjacent to the U.S. embassy. Across the street, the National Christian Council of Kenya building was partially destroyed. More than 250 people were killed and injured as a result of the blast.
* * * * * *
"I used to know that man," said Harry Johnson to the guide. "It's Peter Spellman, isn't it?" He made a move as if to go down the corridor but the guide stepped in front of him.
"I'm sorry," she said. "You can't go down there. Off limits, as it were."
For a moment it seemed that Harry would push past her; she was after all only a slim girl, but then he knew there would be Security officers called and no end of a fuss.
Instead he called, "Peter! It's me, Harry Johnson. Nairobi."
Peter Spellman looked straight at him. For a moment it seemed that he would come back up the corridor but then he turned away and the two men disappeared through the door which shut behind them.
The guide smiled. "I guess you must have been mistaken," she said. "Now if you'd like to come this way." She led the group, some of whom were looking rather strangely at Harry, along the endless corridors towards another door.
"Through here," she said. "Now this I think you'll find quite interesting."
Started: 20, Mon May, 2002 7:48 pm
Finished Thursday, September 8, 2005 14:51
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