Evening was drawing in, and the sky was a flickering mixture of red, orange and blue. The girl sat alone listening to the sounds of the bush, and despite the closeness of the wild animals, she felt calm and unafraid. A hyena yelled before letting out a blood-curdling laugh, and in the distance she heard the desolate sound of a screaming solitary rhino. Knowing that the rhinoceros had come close to extinction, it thrilled her to hear one call out. She was going on a game drive the following morning and hoped she would have the chance to see one of these extraordinary creatures. Looking around, she couldn’t imagine being anywhere as perfect as this. Close to where she was sitting, two giraffes moved between the trees, and she admired their grace and elegance. Then the girl’s eyes turned towards the water hole. Watching the antelopes and impalas make way for the ferocious and heavy buffalo herd, she thought how impressive and magnificent nature was.
The girl was lost in her own private dreams and didn’t need other people to keep her company. Sitting by herself with the sounds and smells of the bush, she felt a wave of peace enfold her, making everything she had left behind in England seem distant and remote. However, sudden laughter startled her and she looked around. She resented being taken away from her own world so abruptly, but immediately felt guilty. She was on vacation in Tanzania and there were only five other people on the safari. Her companions weren’t overbearing or demanding, and there weren’t crowds of people suffocating her. She knew the others were keen to gain new experiences on their first trip to Africa, and she had no right to feel annoyed, knowing that they should be able to enjoy themselves in the way they wanted. However, the girl believed she was different to them. She had only visited the continent once before, but she felt as if she was returning home. Her first visit to Africa had been both a spectacular journey and also a profound experience that had changed her whole outlook on life.
The girl looked at the people who had come onto the veranda. The group had been travelling all day to get to the lodge and had arrived feeling tired and dirty. They had gone to their rooms to shower and rest, but the girl hadn’t wanted to waste time indoors. She had freshened up quickly and then gone outside to sit alone. Getting a glass of wine from the bar, she sipped it slowly, letting the African wilderness envelop her and enter her soul.
“A gin and tonic, that’s what I need after today,” a loud voice called out.
The girl looked up as the man came and sat next to her. She knew she was being selfish wanting to be alone and decided to put her dreams aside for the evening.
“Yes, it’s been a tiring day. The roads were very bumpy, weren’t they?” the girl said. “I’m sure it’ll be worth it though. Just think of all the animals we’ll see tomorrow.”
“I hope it’ll be worthwhile. It’s been disappointing so far,” the man continued.
The group had flown into Nairobi and had visited a game reserve in Kenya before moving on to Tanzania. They were all anxious to watch elephants, lions and rhino interact in the wild, but unfortunately they hadn’t seen many of the big game in Kenya. Despite this, there had still been
much to admire, and the girl wished that the man were able to immerse himself in the atmosphere of the bush. Africa was a dramatic place, and she found it hard to understand how anyone couldn’t be swept away by the power and beauty of the land.
The man, John Carter, was in his late forties, and was travelling with his wife, Jo, and their daughter, Sarah. He was burly and noisy and wore enormous khaki shorts, but despite his overbearing appearance, the girl felt he would never willingly hurt anyone. He would occasionally make jokes at the expense of his wife, but Jo would take them in her stride and would often match him in his humour. The girl could see that underneath this ribaldry, John and Jo cared deeply for each other. Like her husband, Jo was also large and cheerful. Both had dreamt of an African holiday for many years, but had not been able to afford it until now.
However, as much as Jo had wanted to visit Africa, it wasn’t the ideal holiday destination for her. She was terrified of snakes and asked her husband to search their room each time they went in. Before coming on vacation, she had been determined to put these anxieties aside and to revel in the experience. There was so much she wanted to see in Africa, but now she was finding that her fears were taking over.
John and Jo’s eighteen-year old daughter, Sarah, was quite different to her parents. She was petite and timid, and although she was finding Africa exciting, she was also overwhelmed. It was her first holiday abroad, and while she had been looking forward to seeing the wild animals, she sensed danger everywhere and felt on edge. The girl saw Sarah glancing at Dave, another member of the safari group. He was in his early twenties and was handsome, kind and quiet. His older sister, Kate, was travelling with him. She was also attractive, but was more extrovert than her brother. The girl could see that Dave and Sarah were drawn to each other, but both were afraid to make the first move. Dave had first been mesmerized by Sarah’s deep brown eyes, which seemed to hide so many secrets. He wanted to discover what lay beneath that distant exterior of hers, but he looked at her shyly, not knowing whether to talk or not. A few days had gone by since they had started their holiday, but they had said very little to each other. Time was running out for them, but the girl hoped that their African romance would blossom and turn out better than hers had.
The girl took another sip of wine and thought about her visit to Nairobi two years previously.
She had believed herself to be passionately in love, but now she shivered in fear as she remembered that time. In the bar of her hotel, she had met an Englishman who lived in Kenya. It was uncharacteristic of the girl to talk to strangers, but from the moment she saw the man, she felt a deep connection with him. The two days they spent together in Africa had been a magical experience. Trembling each time he looked into her eyes, she believed that he understood her completely, never before having felt that anyone was able to truly sympathize with her. At the end of their first evening together, he had taken her in his arms and kissed her, first slowly, and then with increasing passion. They had gone to her room and made love with an intensity that she had never before experienced. She gave herself to him completely and without question, and when she had to leave him to return to England, she believed that her world had been taken away from her. Feeling that she was nothing without him, she hadn’t wanted to go, but she knew she would be unable to cope with the guilt of leaving her widowed father on his own in England. As she left for the airport, the man promised to phone her and said that they would be together again. Although he did contact her, the calls then stopped abruptly and she thought he had forgotten her. She couldn’t understand how such a passion could cease to exist, but as time went
on, her life started to return to normal. Still, she couldn’t completely put him out of her mind, and when he came to England six months later to find her, she had to go and see him. Despite the pain he had caused her, memories of their time together in Africa flooded back. Although his excuses for not contacting her were poor, he courted her with such intense emotion and force that she felt unable to resist. However, it wasn’t long before she realized the mistake she had made.
When they had been together in Africa, he had made her feel like the most important person in the world. However, now she saw that he was possessive and jealous. He wouldn’t let her have any freedom and was like a python, winding himself around her body and squeezing the life out of her. She ended their relationship, but he wouldn’t give up and continued to pursue her, going away for weeks and then reappearing to frighten her. Sometimes she would look out of her window and see him lurking in the shadows. Then the phone would ring, but there would be nobody there. Walking down the street, she sensed there was somebody following her, but she didn’t see anyone. Eventually the phone calls stopped, but it took many months for her to feel safe, and until recently, she thought that she could never trust anyone again.
“Hey, come on, it’s time for dinner,” a voice boomed in her ear, taking her away from her thoughts. “Looks like a good spread tonight.”
The girl attempted to smile and then reluctantly got up. She had been comfortable sitting outside being absorbed in her own dreams and feelings, but she knew she’d been thinking too much again. She went into the dining room and sat with the others. She imagined they thought she was strange travelling on her own, but it didn’t worry her what people thought, nor did she mind being on her own. Her mother had died when she was thirteen, and from then on she had looked after herself. Her father had done his best and had tried to relate to her, but she had been born late in his life and they were worlds apart. Now she was in her early thirties and had never been married or even lived with anyone, but because of her childhood, she didn’t fear loneliness. Over the years she had got used to it, and was probably more afraid of settling down and making a commitment. Because she had been alone for so long, taking that step filled her with apprehension. When she had been with the man in Nairobi, she had thought for the first time that she was ready to spend her life with someone else. However, when he came to England, she realized that he had fooled her. Now she didn’t know if she would be able to dedicate herself completely to another person and was afraid that she was incapable of giving up her freedom.
“Have some bread; it’s really fresh,” Sarah said.
The girl smiled again and wished that her mind would stop wandering away from the present.
She felt that she needed to relax and enjoy the company of others for a change. They were all kind and genuine people, and it wouldn’t do her any harm to experience normality. She ordered another glass of wine and tried to stop thinking. Attempting to pull herself together, she joined in the conversation.
“I hear there are tree climbing lions in Lake Manyara National Park,” she said. “It’s so unusual for lions to climb trees. It would be wonderful if we could see them.”
“Yes,” Jo said, “It would be great. I just hope we don’t see any snakes!”
They all laughed. Jo was still stressed about meeting snakes, but luckily she hadn’t encountered any yet.
Everybody continued to talk about the animals they wanted to see the next morning. They had so many hopes for the following day, and the girl was carried along by their enthusiasm. It felt unusual and strange to her to be part of a group, but she was starting to like it. The other people accepted her for who she was and this felt unusual and fresh.
As the evening drew to a close, the girl looked towards Dave and Sarah. They were talking quietly together and seemed locked in their own private world. The girl was pleased that their relationship had started to move forward, and she hoped that everything would turn out well for them. Then she remembered the man in Nairobi. For a moment she felt isolated, but because she wasn’t afraid of being alone, this feeling soon disappeared. Then she started to think of the man she had met recently. He was a warm and compassionate person, and although she was nervous, she finally had hope for the future. Thoughts of her previous lover began to fade.
They all got up at five the following morning for the game drive. They had enjoyed the previous evening and had gone to bed late, but the girl had still been unable to sleep. She had been too excited to close her eyes and thoughts had kept running through her mind. Although she was filled with anticipation, she was also scared. She had been worried that since she had last visited Africa, she had built up an imaginary picture of it. She had thought about her previous trip many times in the last two years, particularly when she was unhappy. It had been her escape from reality, and it didn’t matter that her romance had turned out badly. She loved Africa and the freedom and mysticism of the land. This trip was turning out to be very different to her last one, but she was relieved that she hadn’t yet been disappointed by her return.
The girl felt herself tremble as they got into the jeep and started to drive through the park. She hoped that the others wouldn’t be disappointed and would see everything they wanted. She had been lucky on her first trip to Africa, and although she wanted to see the animals again, she was content just being there.
At first they just saw zebra and antelope, but then a cheetah appeared. It stared at them and was suddenly gone. The girl thought that this was how it should be, and remembered her trip to Java the previous year. She had visited a zoo, and although she didn’t like to see animals in cages, the tour guide had been persuasive. As it had been many years since she had been to a zoo, her curiosity had been aroused. She had wanted to see how the animals coped with their captivity, but she was shocked by what she saw and a deep sadness had overwhelmed her. The elephants had chains around their feet and were unable to walk properly. She had stood looking at a leopard in a cage, and neither she nor the big cat could take their eyes off each other. People stared as she talked to him, but she didn’t care. Trying to apologize to him for what the human race had done, she wondered what good it would do. He was imprisoned in that cage for the rest of his life, a life of what seemed to be unhappiness and suffering, a living death. The girl sometimes felt that she too was in a cage, and her thoughts drifted towards her father. Even though she was an adult, he still tried to stop her from doing what she wanted. She loved him, but he treated her as a child. Although she knew that he worried about her, she felt suffocated, and there were many times when she felt like exploding. She wanted to be free, and although at this moment she was, the prison still waited for her. She knew that she would never do to anyone what her father or her ex-lover from Kenya had tried to do to her. Now she was in love again, but she was afraid. She thought that her new lover might also have the same fears as she did, and she didn’t want him to feel trapped. How could she make him believe that she would never put him in a cage and that she didn’t want to stop him from pursuing his dreams or ambitions? She
trusted him implicitly and knew there was no need for them to be together all the time. She also had her friends and her own interests, and she needed time alone. She loved the man, but she didn’t want to change him, knowing that if she tried, he wouldn’t be the person she had fallen in love with. She wanted to understand him, but she was unsure of what was going through his mind.
“Look at the lion in the tree. It’s an amazing sight,” Sarah suddenly said, bringing the girl back to reality.
The girl gazed at the lion, feeling privileged to see this regal creature sitting comfortably in an unusual setting. The uniqueness of the tree-climbing lions thrilled her, and she felt lucky that she had the opportunity to have this experience. She wished the rest of the group would be quieter, but they were all setting up their cameras. The girl knew that she should also take a photograph, but she was reluctant. The lion was a proud animal and she felt she was invading its’ privacy.
Then she smiled as she thought of her friends and work colleagues back home. They all thought she was a little quirky and strange because she believed that animals were as important as people. At work she would be humoured as she walked around with petitions to stop ivory poaching and whale hunting. However, she didn’t really mind what people thought. She had her passions and they didn’t harm anyone.
Having taken photographs, they continued their game drive and were privileged to see elephants and giraffes. As they returned to the lodge, the girl felt elated by what she had witnessed. She wished that the elusive rhinoceros had been there, but she wasn’t disappointed. There was still time, and even if she didn’t see one, she was content just being back in Africa.
That afternoon they drove to the rolling ocean grasslands of the Serengeti plains. Her dream was to see the great migration of the wildebeest, but she would only be there for two nights, and this could happen at any time in the next couple of months, if at all. The rains had been heavy this year and there might not be any need for the animals to leave.
The journey to the Serengeti had been long, but this time the girl did rest when they arrived at the lodge. She was tired and drifted into a deep dreamless sleep, waking up just in time to go for dinner. Walking into the lounge, she heard a crescendo of deep rolling grunts and knew that there was a lion in the distance. Looking around the room, she saw Dave and Sarah sitting together holding hands. Their African romance seemed to be working out, but for a second she felt a sense of isolation. She was happy for them, but she also wished that her new lover were there with her. She suddenly missed him and realized that sometimes you could be alone too much.
John and Jo hadn’t come into the lounge yet. The girl got herself a drink and went to sit on the veranda, wondering if Kate minded that Dave was spending so much time with Sarah. Then she looked around and saw Kate chatting and laughing with a few people from a different safari group. Watching them, the girl thought that Kate would never have problems finding companionship, and for a brief moment she envied her. Closing her eyes, she saw the lion in the tree again and she smiled to herself. However, she was soon disturbed from her dreams by a loud scream.
“There’s a snake in my room. I know there is. I saw it,” Jo said as she rushed into the lounge. John came in a few seconds later and put his arms around his wife.
“Come on Jo, it’s just your imagination. I didn’t see anything,” he said quietly.
Jo was trembling and looked drained. There was nothing that her husband could say to calm her down.
“I know what I saw. I’m not going back into that room.”
“You can’t stay out here all night,” replied John. “It’s just as dangerous. Snakes can get in here as well, and goodness knows what else comes in when we’ve all gone to bed.”
“Oh my God, I just want to go home,” Jo said, sobbing.
John looked at his wife and felt at a loss as to how to help her. She was generally a strong and self-sufficient woman, and he felt unable to deal with her weaknesses.
The girl was concerned for Jo, knowing that it was difficult to overcome your fears, so she brought her a large brandy in the hope of calming her down.
“Here, drink this,” she said. “It’ll do you good. I know it’s hard, but try not to worry. The snake was probably just as scared of you as you were of it. Try to focus on something else. Think about the other things that happened today. I could see how much you were enjoying the game drive this morning. The lion in the tree was an unbelievable sight wasn’t it? And those baby elephants were gorgeous.”
Jo tried to smile. The girl might be a little unusual, but her voice was soothing and she always seemed serene and calm.
“We’ll all go and search your room before you go to bed tonight. I‘m sure that if there‘s anything there, we‘ll find it,” the girl said, gently smiling.
Jo felt slightly better. The girl was on her own, yet she seemed so unafraid of anything in this strange country. She wished she could be like her. Africa was extraordinary, but she felt out of place and apprehensive. She sipped her brandy, and as the warm liquid entered her body, she relaxed and put all thoughts of the snake to the back of her mind. The girl had assured her that they would check the room before she went to bed and she trusted her.
Later that evening, the girl lay in bed thinking. As promised, she had helped to search John and Jo’s room, but they had found nothing. Jo had become calmer, but she had made sure that all the windows were shut before she went to bed. John knew it would be hot with the windows closed, but that was preferable to his wife sitting up all night. The girl could hear John snoring in the next room, the heat not having affected him as he thought it might, and she wondered if Jo had managed to fall asleep yet. She started to think about the man back home and imagined him touching her, moving his hands softly over her body and then kissing her passionately. She realized then that she loved him, and even if she didn’t see him again, her feelings wouldn’t change. She knew that he had problems, that he had an ex-wife who was making his life difficult, but she was prepared to wait for him until he had sorted everything out. There was no rush. She didn’t need to be with anyone else and was fine on her own until he was ready to be with her completely.
With these thoughts, the girl drifted into a restless sleep. Unlike when she had slept earlier in the day, her mind was now filled with confusing dreams. She was sitting in a cage with a lion and was feeling tense and uneasy, but it wasn’t the lion she was scared of. He was old and injured, and she sensed he was also afraid of something. She felt that the animal was no longer able to hold a place in his pride and that he knew his life would soon be over. Sitting huddled with him in a corner of the cage, the girl then looked outside and saw her father laughing. He had finally managed to entrap her and she could see no way of escaping. Suddenly, the cage disappeared, together with the lion and her father, and she was now sitting out in the bush while a snake crept stealthily over her body. She tried to scream, but no sound would come out. She had never feared these creatures before, but as the snake’s hold got tighter, she started to tremble. The snake then began to speak and she realized it had the voice of her African ex-lover.
“I have you now. You thought you’d escaped, but you’ll never get away from me,” he laughed. “You will belong to me until the end of time. Never forget it.”
Then she saw the man she now loved. He was calling to her and she started walking towards him. The snake had disappeared and she momentarily felt relieved. However, although she kept walking towards her new lover, he became more and more distant. She started running, but was unable to get any closer to him. He still called to her, but his voice became fainter, and soon she couldn’t see him at all.
Waking at four, the girl felt as if she hadn’t slept. She went and sat in a chair by her window and breathed in the warm African air. She knew it was too dangerous to go out of her room while everybody was in bed, knowing it was easy for the animals to come into the lodge when it was quiet. She started to feel calm again, but then it dawned on her that she only had a couple more days in Tanzania. Soon she would have to return to England, but although she didn’t want to leave, she knew it was impossible to stay in Africa.
The girl stood at the airport waiting to go home. The rest of her holiday had gone too quickly, but her dream of seeing a rhinoceros in the wild had become a reality. It had been the highlight of the trip for everybody and they couldn’t stop talking about it.
Looking at the other people in her group, the girl felt sad. They had become close in the last few days, but she knew she would probably never see any of them again, despite exchanging addresses. She glanced at John and Jo and thought they seemed content. After the girl had helped to calm her down a couple of nights previously, Jo had become more relaxed. Despite her anxieties, she hadn’t seen a snake, and had realized that there was little point living in fear. She had managed to enjoy the rest of her holiday and was going home with some spectacular memories. Dave and Sarah were sitting together holding hands, and the girl had a feeling that their romance would continue when they returned to England. She saw Kate chatting to the other safari group, and was a little jealous of their relaxed friendship.
The girl felt a tear roll down her cheek, but although she didn’t want to leave Africa, she was anxious to know what was waiting for her at home. She knew she had to stand up for herself and couldn’t allow anyone to put her back in a cage. Despite loving her father, it was time for him to let her go. She still had fears that her ex-lover would come looking for her, but her return to Africa had made her strong enough to face him and to tell him to leave her alone. She didn’t know if the man she loved would be waiting for her at the airport, but she hoped he would be
there. He was the man she wanted to be with for the rest of her life, but if he couldn’t be, she would survive on her own. She always had before and believed that she could do so again. If he did still want her, she was determined to prove to him that she loved him unselfishly, and she would show him that she was prepared to wait for him until he was ready. She had no idea what would happen in the future. The only thing the girl was certain of was that she would return to Africa. It would always be there for her and would take her in with open arms whenever she needed it, even if it was only in her dreams.