Khira had taken him and his suffering child to the bush and then sent the aircraft off back to Nairobi. Loyana had been complaining of tummy aches even when they alighted at Taita Hills Lodge. But Khira still forbade her to talk about the initiation and urged her to grit her teeth and bear it like a “true deity” that she’d now been initiated into. He noticed that something was wrong with Lo but the child insisted she was fine, it probably was only the humid weather in the region. So Khira and Loyana had remained behind instead of accompanying him and the boys on the first leg of the safari in Tsavo West National Park. He remembered Loyana, still uncharacteristically quiet and reserved, saying, “Pappa, I think I’ll skip Tsavo West. There’s still Tsavo East tomorrow.”
For his children’s health and safety he would risk less than nothing.
But when he and the boys got back to Taita for the afternoon tribal dances, Loyana’s condition had markedly worsened. Mother and daughter still maintained their “just a tummy ache” story. Khira bundled them off to the sister lodge Salt Lick for overnight as had been arranged so that the family could watch the animals coming to the salt lick at sunset.
Idyllic. They had supper on the balcony of their rondavel-on-stilts overlooking the waterhole, watched the animals come and go, the boys skipped around on the “bridges” – the walkways that joined the rondavels – like miniature inane tourists photographing the animals. They went into the glass tunnel so they could see the animals at the lick and waterhole in close quarters without disturbing them. The boys whooped like hell but Loyana, now in his arms with her arms around his neck and her legs wrapped around his trunk, her loose black curls open and cascading down to his upper thighs, still remained stoic.
The tummy aches got worse and worse. When Khira had put her to bed and came back to him and the boys on the balcony, it was clear that something was very wrong. He tried to hug Khira and she jumped out of her skin. That’s when he went in to his daughter to find her as white as chalk on the bed, doubled up with pain. He soothed and talked to her until she at last told him what had happened. She gave him her diary to read, her face contorted with pain. Her amber-green eyes pleaded with him to help her, take the pain away, just do something, for heaven’s sake. Loyana had noted every single step of the rituals she’d gone through in the Sacred Oath of Femininity in her journal. He was berserk with rage and indignation, as his eyes flew over the pages. He couldn’t do arse all. Zilch. Nada. Stuck in the savannah with wild animals.
He now paused to ask, “You two talk about everything so I assume you know all about me and my first wife, Claudette?”
Joyce nodded. Her cheeks were wet. He offered her his soppy handkerchief. She shook her head and pulled out her own from her handbag. “Jesus wept. This is something God would want to personally examine.”
He nodded the reply: then I need not go into that afresh, misunderstanding what Joyce’s last remark referred to.
He continued his narrative as they neared the Lausanne interchange.
Stuck in the bush at night with only two Range Rovers as his means of transportation to the nearest decent medical help which was Mombasa, two hours drive away. As he read the diary, painful, buried wounds in him were excavated, exposed, reopened, salted and chillied. Whenever he spoke – to soothe Loyana or compound a point with her – his every word trembled with an overload of passion. Khira had not merely threatened him. Khira had swindled him to enter his fortified heart. She had conned him into opening the gates of his fort for her, conned him into ushering her in with a gallant bow, and then she had turned on him like a hired assassin and plunged a dagger in his heart.
All he could think of was that another one of them had betrayed his love and trust. And worse than any of them could ever have done. She had fatally stabbed him where he couldn’t strike back, couldn’t even pull out the dagger however hard he tried. The pain had never been this monstrous, ever.
Wasn’t there a single one of them here on earth whom a man could live with without fear of betrayal of one kind or another? he asked himself again and again as he watched his child dying. The more he read of the rituals in the journal the more he was convinced she was dying. Yet Khira, knowing what she had done with his baby, worried about nothing except her own skin and some damned feminine cult. Knowing what she had done, she should not have brought him and his children to the bush in the first place, where there could be no adequate medical help at hand, Joyce. And having done so, she should have had the good sense under whatever pretext to retain the aircraft there that morning just in case anything went wrong.
“Was it one of your own aircraft?” Not that this would have mattered, thought Joyce. From a financial point of view.
“An L-W Charters Cessna, with one of our regular pilots. Mombasa would have been half an hour away, top.”
Joyce bobbed her head. She’d flown in one of them with her parents back in ’66 to Eldoret airstrip where a fleet of waiting limousines had driven them and the other guests to the farm to attend Khira’s wedding. Mighty impressive for a nineteen-year-old being flown as the bride’s maid of honour.
Then again, Erik rattled on, as his baby's condition began to deteriorate during the day, Khira should have been alarmed and done something at once. Like radioing the Lindqvist-Wilkinson Air Charters, while the offices were still open, for an aircraft. Or the flying doctor services. She should have done a thousand and one things to help minimise the situation ending in the catastrophe it had now become. But all she had done was blackmail his suffering baby with tears, after she had delivered her to a pack of Stone Age witches to savage in the first place. BEHIND HIS FUCKING BACK! He went stark staring bonkers, Joyce. His emotions, his mind – all simply pole-vaulted and before he knew it he was over the crossbar.
“And landed on your own wife with your fists? Jupiter and Apollo, Erik!”
“Heavens, I hit her with…”
“Only one fist? Excellent mitigating factors. I just told you – it’s her Faith. Once she’d crossed the line there was no other way back even under persecution. If she’d have done any of those thousand and one things, she’d…”
“Heavens, Joyce, whatever faith or belief, all I could think of at the time was that it had killed my first child and only daughter. And for what good? As if my baby was ever destined for employment in a fucking geisha teahouse!”
“Watch yourself or you’ll kill both of us on this motorway, man. And I wager you never swore once when talking to Khira.”
“Sorry. But…” Another deflation.
How could Khira of all people, do this to him? was all he could think of after he flipped over, Joyce. What happened to the sweet, innocent and enchanting nature’s child that he had worshipped? What happened to the enigmatic child-goddess, the mere thought of whom had elevated and exhilarated him? That trusting soul that would never dream of hurting him? That had been his very soul? Hadn’t she felt the monstrous pain he was feeling, at the sight of the suffering child? Hadn’t this serrated knife slicing through his brain, threatening him with insanity, not sawed through hers too? How could Khira, of all creatures, have simply moved on with her day in the face of all this?
He’d thought about how he’d taken Khira away from the jungle, but he’d also encouraged her to take the jungle along with her. Part of her exhilarating enigma, this huge mystery around her, to him. The Big Mystique called Africa. But this fact was now lost on him, Joyce. In his opinion, at the time, he could never forgive her for her shocking callousness to his daughter's suffering all day long. He could not forgive her for blackmailing her own child and only daughter to suffer agonies stoically instead of taking any remedial measures. He couldn't believe that a mother, unless a monstrous one, would sacrifice the life of her only daughter on account of some fossilled oath of some fossilled female cult that forbade her revealing its existence.
“Jupiter and Apollo...”
“…you’re still not listening to me. You’re so self-centred.”
“I’m talking about last Saturday night, Joyce, not…”
“But our sweetheart is a Living Dead now, Erik. That’s Luo for coma.”
Something awesome was in his larynx. “The Luos are so right, my girl.”
“Yet, such is the might of Faith over mortal zealots. She had taken her oath and made her pledges and would obey all the dictates at any and all costs.”
“Over centuries or even millennia. She was exactly what you were crazy about: a traditional Luo deity. And then you send her into a bloody coma for it.”
“Joyce,” he began but her look killed him off. Truth was useless right now.
“I’m sorry you had to hear about it all from Aunt Nyowuor, Joyce. Truly.”
“You were a double coward and that’s what you should be sorry about.”
Touché, my girl.
“So how did you get out of Tsavo in the middle of the night with a sick child and a comatose wife?”
“Luck. Or as Gudinna would put it, the bonny ancients and the Gods. Dr Mills, who kept a level head while I was a raging beast, finally packed me and the family in the two Rangers and we were driven back to Taita Hills Lodge where we could radio the Hilton in Nairobi.”
“And where the airstrip is.”
He nodded. “We were even luckier than that. There was a Cessna roosting on it when we got to the lodge. Had just delivered a batch of American tourists.”
That jolted him into positive action. While Mills radioed Nairobi Hilton to locate one of his private jet pilots, he charged around looking for the Cessna’s pilot. It hadn’t been one of his L-W Charters aircraft. He now saw the scenes in the screen of his mind as he narrated the story to Joyce.
He came stampeding to the night manager at the reception desk and asked about who had piloted the Cessna. “What the fuck’s his bloody name?”
“Mr Alexander Delamare, sir!”
And he’d been so relieved his eyes misted. He knew young Sandy Delamare and his family. An old Kenyan aristocrats of British descent. Sandy had come to him once for a job with the Charters a couple of years ago, introduced to him by his partner, Sir James Wilkinson. But he had turned Sandy down because he had thought the young man was too inexperienced and cocky, and had the sort of face whose corresponding name dowager tourists put down in their revised last wills. Sandy was in his mid thirties, with the dark Celtic look, jet black hair and forget-me-not eyes whose intensity women never failed to remember. And Sandy knew how to put these facts to maximum use. But of importance right then had been the fact that Sandy was known in Africa as Knight Night Flyer because he could safely land an aircraft in a clearing in the middle of a tropical forest at midnight in darkest Africa. Fate really meant it well with him that night. Or rather that morning, for it was already past midnight.
“Got him?” he’d asked the manager who’d dialled Sandy’s room.
The manager shook his head, replacing the receiver, then pulled out the paging board and began writing Alexander’s name on the board as Erik turned and sprinted to the lounge.
He burst in. And there was Alexander, sitting down around a low table, having drinks with a loud crowd of over-fed tourists who looked like the sort of American male and female big game hunters out to kill animals from Amboseli over Serengeti to Kruger in South Africa, leaving huge bundles of dollars in their wake as compensation. “Sandy!” he shouted, breaking his impetus. “Sandy! Come here a moment please – quickly!” Alexander rose and came to him.
“Viking! What are you doing… you look positively ghastly, old fellow!”
“I’ve gone out of my mind, but I need your Cessna – NOW, Sandy! Sorry. You fly it or I fly it. To Mombasa with my whole family. My wife and daughter need urgent medical attention, so…”
“Wait a minute, man!”
“I can’t even wait a second, Sandy. My wife and daughter… my entire family…”
“For heaven’s sake I’m tinkered already! To all outward purposes I’m past my sell-by date right now, Viking. I don’t even know where my co-pilot is. And if you may have forgotten, I’m here on a job. Unlike you I don’t own aircraft, I fly them for other people.”
“I’m the co-pilot, Sandy.”
Then he’d thought: Heavens, should I really take my sons on the flight? Shouldn’t I leave them here? And then what? If the damn Cessna crashed in the night and killed him and their mother and sister, how much better off would his sons be? No, he would fly with his whole family. Everything will be fine. Had to be fine. Fate meant well with him. He turned to Sandy again.
“You’ll be back in an hour or so, and if you get me to Mombasa I promise you you’ll have more aircraft than you can cope with – at double whatever you’re earning at present. And now move! Move your arse, you pup…” Erik was dragging a protesting Alexander out of the lounge.
They bumped into Dr Mills. “Ah, Derek, hello! Tell this chap to leave me alone, will you? I’m just about as drunk as a lord, and not just because I’m the son of one. I love flying and want to keep my pilot’s licence.” They shook hands.
“If you don’t fly him to Mombasa,” said Dr Mills, “he’ll make sure you lose your licence, Sandy.”
And Sandy knew he could too, if he had a mind to. Sandy succumbed.
Joyce was swivelling her head right and left on her neck. “It was a bloody huge risk, shemeji. But this time even I, in your shoes, would have been just as heedless of the consequences and singularly self-centred.”
“Oh, thank you, your majesty.”
As they both smiled, she said, “Drive me straight to her, all right?”